Each team is a mix of personalities, intellects, and attitudes to work. We can never expect everyone to put in exactly the same effort, simply because each of us is different. Someone is more motivated, someone else less gifted. Someone may love their job, and other team member may hate it, or they may be going through a difficult period in their personal life, which mirrors on their results. To sum it up, in each and every team you’ll have the best and the worst performers. Managing such a team, or even being an informal leader of it, your goal is to make sure that the poor performer does not spoil the morale in the entire team, and that they eventually improve on their results, within the scope of their possibilities and limitations.

You may get this question in an interview for any managerial, supervisory, or even sales role, simply any position in which you’ll belong to the team of people, or will lead such a team. Let’s have a look at 7 sample answers, including answers for people without any previous working experience. I tried to include different scenarios on the list, and hopefully you will find there at least one answer you can use in your interview. Do not forget to read also my notes below the answers, for additional explanations and hints.


7 sample answers to “Tell me about a time when you had to deal with a poor performer on your team” interview question

  1. I recall such a situation from my last job. Leading a small team of sales associate, I tried to set key performance indicators for my team members, and compared them on a weekly and monthly basis. After two months it became clear to me that one of the members was performing poorly when compared to other people in the team. I had a one on one with them, trying to understand the core of the problem. I quickly realized it wasn’t motivation, or bad attitude, or anything similar. They were simply a wrong hire, by a major part. Not everyone can become a good salesman… However, I didn’t give up on them. I gave them one on one coaching, practiced different scenarios with them, trying to help them improve on their sales skills. It worked to a certain extent, their results improved, but they still did not perform as well as the others on the team. In my opinion, we can work with poor performers, but each person has their limitations and not everyone can achieve exceptional results…
  2. I was in charge of a team of eight warehouse workers, typically working the morning shift. I quickly realized that one guy spent a lot of time playing with their smartphone, and went for a cigarette break much more often than the others. They had this “macho” mentality, and they also teased other team members, asking them why they were working so hard, even mocking them. I quickly realized the magnitude of the problem, because such a poor performer can spoil the morale in the workplace. Calling them for a meeting, I gave them a deadline to end such a behavior, and to stop leading other clerks astray. I also made it a point to follow them closely. But they didn’t obey, so I warned them one more time. They didn’t care, and so I eventually terminated their contract. I know that it is not easy to hire new people to the warehouse, and it costs money. At the same time, however, you cannot afford to have a poor performer in your team, especially if they have a negative impact on other workers.
  3. Working as a shift manager at STARBUCKS, I quickly realized something wasn’t right in my team. Not one but two baristas performed poorly, and they didn’t have smile on their face while dealing with the customers. I decided to have a one on one meeting with each team member–including those who performed well, trying to understand what went wrong. And I found out from one of the team members that the two guys in question had a quarrel about some girl, and were not speaking together since, and not trying hard enough on purpose. I called those two to my office, and made sure that they explained things to each other, shook hands, and got behind it for good. They eventually did, at least somehow, and both the atmosphere in the team and the performance improved.
  4. This is my first job application, so I cannot really talk about an example from work. I remember a school soccer team, however, where we had a couple of poor performers. But we were a small team, and it wasn’t a professional league, and we wanted to keep the guys on the team, because more than anything else, we were a group of friends. Hence we tried to identify their strengths, and find for them a position in the team on which their weaknesses weren’t so apparent. We somehow managed to do that, though they remained the weak points in the team… Things probably work a bit different in the corporate environment, but I am sure that as long as we try to help the poor performers to improve on their skills, they will make some progress.
  5. I’ve never led any team before, but I actually was a poor performer in my last job. I belonged to the team of five sales associates, and month after month I had the worst results. I was aware of it, without a need to hear anything from the manager. And I tried hard to improve on my results. I stayed overtime almost daily, made more calls than my colleagues, tried to improve on the sales techniques. But somehow it didn’t work and I eventually realized that sales simply wasn’t the right career field for me. My strengths are elsewhere, and that’s why I am here today with you, applying for a job of a financial analyst. Sure enough I won’t be the poor performer in my next team.
  6. Well, this is the first job I try to get, so it is hard for me to talk about dealing with poor performers. But I realize that not everyone will achieve exceptional results, and that my main goal as a manager is to work with the people, motivate them, trying to understand why one performs better than the other, and make sure that everyone performs to their potential. Emotional intelligence and observation skills belong to my strengths. I believe I will be able to spot when something goes wrong, and act on it quickly. And I am looking forward to help each team member reach their full potential in work.
  7. I experienced a tricky situation in my last job. Because the poor performer happened to be the team leader. They spent all days in their comfy office, just sending orders and checking results, not caring much about how we fared, if we did not experience any issues in the team, and what was going on in the workplace. Needless to say, we had many problems in the team, because when the manager did not pay attention, people did whatever they wanted–hanging around, spending 90 minutes on lunch, playing with their phones, and so on. I tried to raise the issue with the CEO, but they were best of friends with the manager and didn’t take any action. Eventually I decided to leave the company, and hope to find a better climate in my new job. Because I like to work hard, and want to belong to a team in which everyone tries their best.

* Special Tip: This isn’t the only tricky question you will face while interviewing for any decent job. You will face questions about prioritization, dealing with pressure, solving problems, and other tricky scenarios that happen in the workplace. If you want to make sure that you stand out with your answers and outclass your competitors, have a look at our Interview Success Package. Up to 10 premium answers to 50 tricky scenario based questions (+ more) will make your life much easier in the interviews. Thank you for checking it out!


Individual approach is the key

Regardless of the situation you narrate, try to demonstrate that you approach each issue of performance (or motivation) individually. You will have a one on one with the poor performer, trying to understand what’s wrong. It can be many things: lack of motivation, not being satisfied with the compensation, health issues, problems in their personal life, struggling to get along with colleagues, lacking the knowledge to handle the job, and so on.

Understanding the reason why they perform poorly, you try to address it, within the scope of your responsibilities and their limitations. Firing the poor performer should be your last resort–when other remedies failed, but as a manager you should be able to send someone packing–if nothing else worked with them.

Unconventional answer – you were the poor performer

If you want to stand out with your answer, you can say something only a few people would admit. You can claim that you were actually the poor performer on your last team. And since you care, and strive to deliver, you worked on your skills, you identified the training needs and tried to improve on your weaknesses, and basically did what you could to get at least to the level of your colleagues.

Maybe it worked, and maybe it didn’t–simply because you didn’t choose the right job. And it doesn’t matter much for the hiring managers, as long as they see your excellent attitude in the story. First of all, that you can admit your mistakes and weaknesses. And secondly, that you try your best to improve on them, and do not wait until the manager tells you to do something. You will win a lot of points with such an answer in the interviews….

Ready to answer this one? I hope so! Do not forget to check also 7 sample answers to other tricky interview questions:

Matthew Chulaw
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