I have heard it over and over since I was a child: “a strong chain is only as strong as it’s weakest link.” I have worked some with chains with my father-in-law on the farm, and have learned the danger and difficulties of not having the right chain or a weak link.
The challenge as a leader is to realize that a “weak link” on a team can cause major problems which have immediate and long term impact. The difficulty is that few leaders know how to deal with this situation.
When asked as an executive coach about dealing with a problem person on a team, I always offer three recommendations. First, visit with the HR professionals in your organization. Often, there is history about this situation and there may be complicating factors. An HR professional can guide you through the process of deciding how to best deal with this situation.
Second, read the following book: Lencioni, Patrick. The Five Dysfunctions of a Team, Jossey-Bass, 2002. A weak link on a team often causes problems in the areas of trust, conflict resolution and commitment. This is a good book on how to solve dysfunctional teams. It will give you insights on how to proceed at the team level in a realistic manner.
Third, if you in consultation with your HR professional choose to deal with a weak link, I would encourage you to review the fundamentals listed in this book: Patterson, Kerry, and Joseph Grenny, Ron McMillan, and Al Switzler. Crucial Conversations: Tools For Talking When Stakes Are High (McGraw-Hill, 2002). I know from experience that opinions will vary, emotions will run strong, and the impact of what is said will be long lasting. Therefore, remember that the only person you can change or control in any given situation is yourself.
At times, the weakest link can be made strong. People do want to do well at work. Still, which ever pathway you choose to solve this problem, always remember to be clear about the purpose of the work and the integrity of the organization’s core values. These two elements are what must transcend the current reality.