In the realm of management, addressing team member underperformance is as critical as it is delicate. Consider Jamie, a once stellar performer whose recent slump in productivity and quality has sent ripples through project timelines, inciting concern among teammates. This scenario is far from uncommon, yet it demands a nuanced approach from middle managers to navigate effectively.

❌ The Wrong Approach: Public Reprimand

The instinct might be to address Jamie’s underperformance in a team meeting, perhaps hoping that a public call-out might spark a turnaround. However, this approach is fraught with pitfalls. A study from the American Management Association highlights that public criticism can lead to increased workplace stress and a significant drop in employee engagement. The impact of such a strategy is not just on Jamie but can also send shockwaves of discomfort and fear among the rest of the team, potentially stifling open communication and innovation.

✅ The Recommended Strategy: Constructive One-on-One Conversation

The preferred approach involves a private, empathetic conversation with Jamie to understand the root causes of the underperformance. It’s about opening a dialogue, not issuing an ultimatum. This meeting is an opportunity to express concern, listen to Jamie’s side of the story, and collaboratively develop a performance improvement plan. Such a strategy aligns with research from Gallup, which found that employees who feel their manager is invested in them as people are more engaged, with a 59% greater likelihood of being productive and loyal to the organisation. By taking this route, you’re not only addressing the immediate issue but fostering a culture of trust and support.

‼️ The Fallout of Inaction: A Domino Effect

Choosing to ignore the problem, hoping it will resolve itself, is perhaps the most perilous path. The initial impacts—missed deadlines and compromised project quality—only scratch the surface. Over time, unchecked underperformance can erode team morale, leading to a toxic work environment where accountability is absent, and disengagement becomes the norm. According to the Harvard Business Review, teams with low engagement scores report 18% lower productivity and 15% lower profitability, underscoring the high stakes of inaction.


In navigating the complex terrain of addressing underperformance, middle managers must wield their influence with both compassion and resolve. The choices made in these moments can significantly affect team dynamics, project outcomes, and the organisational culture at large. The key lies in opting for a path that not only resolves the immediate issue but enriches the fabric of the team, promoting a culture where challenges are met with constructive support rather than punitive measures.

By embracing empathetic leadership and fostering open lines of communication, managers can transform potential points of friction into opportunities for growth and learning. In doing so, they not only uplift individuals like Jamie but elevate the entire team, steering the organisation toward a future marked by resilience, engagement, and sustained success.