Jennifer Thomas is a bestselling author, psychologist, speaker, consultant & apology critic

What to Say When Your Team Bails Out

Photo by Marianne Williams

Welcome to my blog. I’m a psychologist and the co-author (with Gary Chapman) of When Sorry Isn’t Enough. I share tips about What to Say When challenging conversations arise and I welcome your thoughts and questions. I’ll check back in frequently to chime in on the conversations here.


Are you a trustworthy person? Are you really as good as your word? If so, you may find yourself dismayed by people who:

  • Can’t seem to make a clear commitment.
  • Say they will do something but then don’t follow through.
  • Say they will participate in something with you but then don’t show up.
  • Agree to help you but then make excuses when it’s time to dig in.

Kate ran into this problem on a fairly large scale. She was the volunteer coordinator of a monthly dinner group. She polled the other members about their interest in having a special catered dinner. The members expressed great enthusiasm so she took orders for the food. When she sent out a last-minute reminder, the cancellations came rolling in. Three people had forgotten about the party and had made other plans. Two people went out of town unexpectedly and another three simply did not show up.

Kate was beyond frustrated. She was trying to be a successful leader but her soldiers had gone AWOL. She was struggling with disappointment about her efforts being wasted and she had a financial dilemma: how should the catering bill be divided? Should everyone pay for the food or only the people who attended? It is headaches like these that can make volunteers hesitate to step into leadership roles. The frustration of being let down can ruin friendships and divide work teams.

What happens when employees make commitments but don’t meet their deadlines? Trust is damaged. It is situations like these that make managers want to bail out and knock on the doors of more “healthy” companies.

About the Problem:

I’ve identified three factors that cause people to say “Yes” but not follow through:

  • Insufficient organizational skills or task management skills.
  • Passive resistance- they didn’t really like the plan in the first place but they didn’t speak up. They “vote” by not following though.
  • Poor communication skills. They have trouble telling people “no”. They may chronically overcommit and underperform.

What to Say:

To all the group coordinators who are reading this, let me say that I feel your pain. There is hope for you and your teams to commit to plans and move in the right direction together. Here is how:

  • Before deciding on a plan of action, try to get input from everyone in a way that feels safe and invites discussion of concerns. You can do this by asking about both pros and cons of an idea. If some people don’t speak up, consider taking an anonymous written vote.
  • Consider potential problems. When making a plan, talk about obstacles that might arise and how you will manage them. Also, ask people to put their money where their mouth is so you don’t wind up holding the bag on an event’s cost.
  • Check the pulse of the group along the way. Ask if they are still on board with you and how they feel as the event approaches.

Why This Works:

Have you ever depended on someone who would rather string you along with “yes” and “maybe” than have a confrontation in which they tell you “no”?  If you’ve been through this aggravating experience, you know that you would have been better off if they would have just declined up front. Why? So you wouldn’t be wasting your time and energy paddling a boat that has few people on board.

Everyone feels respected when their views are taken into consideration. Tell your members them that you want them to speak up early in the process about any misgivings they might have. Thank them for their input. In the end, team efforts work better than individual ones. No single person should carry the full load with little appreciation. Everyone should feel engaged, satisfied, and productive.

Share Your Thoughts:

Can you trust the members of your teams?

New! Leave a comment here or under any of my posts this month and you’ll be entered in a drawing to win a $20 Amazon gift card from me.


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