What is holding them back?

You have a team member who is not taking the actions that you need. They have the potential to do. You want to find out the source of avoidance or procrastination. It’s important for their success and enjoyment, and for the success of the team, plus it will allow you to fulfil your responsibilities as leader.

Here are some questions to ask:

(1) Why?

“Why are you not taking on the new tasks (or whatever the action is)?”

It is the problem not just its symptoms that needs to be uncovered. It is unlikely the first answer will state the true problem. Keep drilling down on this question until the heart of the matter is reached.

Example:

You have a manager Kim who baulks at taking on strategic initiatives, when you ask why this is so the following dialogue occurs:

Kim (K:) “I don’t have enough time” 

You (Y:) Validate this, such as “Okay, you say you don’t have enough time, why is that the situation do you think?

K: “With reviewing the reports from Clancy, I hardly get enough time to do my own work let alone this extra work I have been assigned”.

Y: Reviewing staff reports is a normal part of Kim’s role. It should not be causing angst. You feel that this may mean skills training is needed, however you understand that what is obvious is rarely the true problem, so you validate the statement and take the next step

Y: “Okay, so you find reviewing the reports from Clancy is eating up your time (you wait for her to nod her head), why have you highlighted this aspect?” 

K: “Clancy provides reports that do not follow process and so I have to rework them” 

Y: Ah, another possible area for intervention, it could be process training that is needed for Clancy, but again, you realise it could be something more, and so ask

Y: “Why are you reworking the report and not Clancy?”

K: “Because Clancy is too busy”

Y: Now you think, there is more to this than I thought. It could be delegation skills for Kim, process training for Clancy, or even something else – like conflicted priorities. So you keep going, enquiring why Clancy is too busy, adding options to this list until you narrow it down to a likely cause.

(2) How do you think this task (that is not being completed) benefits your career? 

Oftentimes we do not think much beyond our to do list, and forget about our long term goals. When our goals and our actions are aligned we get meaning from our work. Work without meaning has limited attraction resulting in half hearted attempts, procrastination and avoidance.

(3) Is there something else impacting your energy / attention?

Ask about sleeping, eating, exercising and rejuvenating alone-time habits as well as social activities and important relationships. Each of these impacts energy, clear thinking and motivation. Find out what has changed over this period of lack lustre performance.

Next steps

In your discussion you’ll have identified many relevant issues, but as the good leader you are you know that changes starts one small step at a time. The meeting should conclude with your team member agreeing to one or two matters that are in her control (either directly or with help) and an agreed second meeting, the purpose of which is to discuss / review the plan your team member has created. For any change to succeed progress must be seen and rewarded, your followup meetings will ensure this necessary factor is not missed.

Caveat:

The answer quality and ensuing results depend on the trust existing between the two of you.

If trust is low put these questions on hold. Build that first.


By asking these questions in an environment of high trust and emotional safety, and then making yourself available to talk through issues as they arise, you should see your team member’s behaviour improve. However please be patient as the future effects of change, like any decision, are not known at the time the decision is made. All sorts of internal and external stressors may arise that have the potential to derail even the best intentions so please remain open to these as the change journey progresses.


Jennifer is a strategy implementation coach who helps leaders turn their strategies into results.

She assists executives and business owners to achieve goals without delay regardless of whether those goals are increases in profit, productivity, leadership skills or something else. Her services are Business and Executive Coaching, Group Facilitation, Strategic Planning.

 To find out how she can help you, call +61 439 520 182 or email.