How to Nudge Underperforming Team Members by Email

Modern and Proactive organizations have shifted from management systems that encourage individuality, competition, and internal rivalry to more inclusive and collaborative management systems that encourage teamwork.  However, working in teams comes with its own unique challenges for team members and leaders such as dealing with underperforming, unresponsive, unreliable, or inconsistent team members.

Underperforming team members pose a threat to the effectiveness of the team.  The popular saying that a team is only as strong as its weakest link is very apt when analyzing the impact of an unproductive team member on the output of a team.   Team leaders and other team members may choose to ignore a slacking team member to avoid drawing the attention of management to the unresponsive team member in fear of costing the team member their job, but the team suffers when this approach is taken.  Rather than condone underperformance, team leaders must look for ways to nudge such team members to deliver on tasks.

Techniques for Nudging Underperforming Team Members by Email

Proactive team leaders must understand that an underperforming team member negatively impacts the overall team by affecting the morale of other team members, corrupting other team members to become less productive, and reducing the overall output of the team.  Therefore, team leaders must pay attention to the effectiveness of all team members and adopt best practices for motivating team members and nudging underperforming team members to greater effectiveness.

As a team Leader, leverage email technology to nudge underperforming team members without isolating the weak team member or drawing undue attention to the poor performance of the team member.  Here are some techniques team leaders can implement to nudge underperforming team members:

Train with Emails

Learning and development are crucial for skill transfer and the development of human capacity in organizations.  Training your team doesn’t have to only occur through designated training/learning interventions that require gathering participants in a hall and employing a facilitator to deliver the training.

Take advantage of the abundant resources available on the internet and leverage email technology to transfer the knowledge and skills the underperforming team member needs to perform better on the job.  Share resources, articles, tips and learning aids via email with underperforming team members to help them gain the knowledge they need to perform better.

Identify the skill gaps your team members have and share useful tips, articles and learning aids to help them perform better on the job.  This continuous learning will help not just the slacking team member but will go a long way to transfer your team to a high functioning unit of your organization.

Give Underperforming Team Member Nowhere to Hide

nudge-performing-team-members-email/Be clear and specific when assigning tasks to team members.  Unclear instructions allow lazy team members skirt responsibility.  By documenting what needs to be done in an email and assigning tasks to various team members with clear instructions, unproductive team members are forced to participate in the execution of tasks.

Motivate team members to deliver quality by requiring them to return their outputs by email with other team members copied.  This is a subtle way to nudge an underperforming team member to step up their game while creating a learning opportunity for your team.   Encourage team members to review the outputs of teammates and ask questions as a team building and training exercise.

Set Clear Timelines on Tasks

In addition to avoiding responsibilities and slacking, underperforming team members will often miss deadlines.  Set your team up for success by setting task deadlines that are well ahead of the final output deadline for your team.

Write task assignment emails with clear submission dates for various tasks.  Use follow-up emails to prompt team members ahead of time.  Various email software is built with calendar functionalities that can help you stay abreast of the various timelines and keep deadlines in view.

Give Effective Feedback

Though it seems unlikely, some underperformers do not know that they are slacking or that they are not pulling their own weight on team tasks.  Team leaders must ensure they give effective feedback to manage the performance of team members.

There is a skill to giving feedback that is effective and instrumental in improving the productivity of team members. Implement best practice for giving feedback to team members whether giving feedback face-to-face or by email.  There are various resources available to help leaders and managers horn the skill of giving effective feedback.


Underperforming team members are not a cross to bear or cancer to cut out; rather slacking team members are a test of leadership and management skills.   Skill and tact must be employed when striving to nudge an underperforming team member to ensure undue tension isn’t created in the team.   Email systems are a tool for nudging underperforming team members without drawing undue attention to them or ostracizing them.

Create training and learning opportunities with email, assign tasks clearly, set proactive deadlines and give effective feedback to transform your underperforming team members.

If all your efforts to nudge an underperforming team member prove unsuccessful.  Consult your HR manager for assistance in determining if the underperforming employee can be transformed or is just a bad fit for your team or organization.

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