Successful real estate teams rely on every team member to perform their job to the fullest potential. When a team is firing on all cylinders, all members enjoy greater revenue growth, a sense of unity and the deep satisfaction of being part of a high-achieving machine.
But when just one member fails to pull their own weight, the team’s collective productivity can suffer. The other team members might begin to doubt the purpose of their own hard work and even question the judgment and managerial skills of their leader.
The obvious response may be to part ways with the underperforming or non-cooperative member. However, team leaders who put forth the extra effort to coach up the underperformer often not only save costly recruiting expenses but also find their efforts pay off with stronger team morale and greater output.
Industry analyst Russ Cofano found that sales production of top-performing teams from 2011 to 2017 grew nine times faster than top-performing individual agents. This may very well explain why team formation is one of the fastest-growing trends in real estate. Among the nearly 3,500 agents who responded to NAR’s 2018 Teams Survey, 26% were actively on a team and another 9% had strongly considered joining or starting one.
One of the keys to success for any agent is to closely monitor their performance metrics as an indicator of those areas where they’re successful and where there’s room to improve. While solo agents might work for years without analyzing their performance (or having anyone to hold them accountable), a successful team relies on carefully defined systems with constant accountability from leadership.
Each member should know exactly what their role is at any given time and how well they’re performing — not just because their own success depends on it, but because their performance impacts every other member of the team.
“When you have the right group of people together, the synergy causes breakthroughs and efficiency that just cannot be produced otherwise,” says Keri Shull, a broker/owner at Hyperfast Real Estate in Washington, D.C.
Of course, the opposite is also true. When even one person doesn’t perform their job up to par, it can bring down the whole team.
Many team leaders talk about the team makeup in terms of “having the right people.” A team member who is underperforming may simply be a bad fit in both personality and philosophy. But before a team leader lets the underperformer go and starts looking for a replacement, it’s a good idea to first see if there’s a solvable reason for their lack of productivity.
Here are five ways a team leader can try to turn around underperforming agents and elevate their results.
According to psychologist and team dynamics expert Bruce Tuckman, team leaders often inadvertently overlook the importance of clarifying expectations when forming a team. A leader may not adequately communicate the overarching goals, leaving the team without a clear purpose for success and direction.
In this case, Tuckman says, “instead of building trust, distrust and conflict result.” Or, the problem may exist on a more detailed level. “If you lack job descriptions, team processes and procedures, and clear-cut roles based upon each team members’ strengths, it’s easy for your team to fall apart,” he says.
The underlying problem may be as simple as an underperforming member not having a clear idea of their specific responsibilities, or they may just need reminding.
Holly Priestner, director of Talent Acquisition for the multi-state Xperience Real Estate Team — Keller Williams, says that they have a 30-day program designed specifically to bring underperforming agents up to expectations.
We offer a lot of ongoing coaching and accountability but sometimes people need regrounding in the basics. We want to offer every chance to help our agents get back on track.
It’s critical that team leaders ensure that their members align with the team’s core philosophy — the goals, objectives and motivating factors that form the very foundation of the team.
The Xperience Real Estate Team talks about this alignment in terms of the agent’s “why” — the “north star,” which can serve as a touchpoint for reminding agents about their central motivation.
An agent who is underperforming should receive the chance to explain why they may feel unmotivated or unsupported. Or, they may feel like they’re no longer suited for their role on the team. Perhaps they just want to know that the team leader cares enough to discuss the issues with them.
Hagen Kuhl, leader of The Kuhl Team, Ascent Realty Colorado near Vail, says that it’s best to give a struggling team member the benefit of the doubt, because they may not know why they’re coming up short. Beginning agents, for example, often struggle with time management, he says.
“I would start by giving the agent a contact tracker, which gives them a way to see how they’re spending their day,” says Kuhl. “They can see how they should be using their time versus how they’re actually using their time.”
Kuhl says that together he and the agent can identify weaker performance areas and determine the best course for improvement.
The dotloop for Teams transaction management platform can help by providing robust reporting tools that give team leads deep visibility of their business, from what’s under contract to individual agent performance. The teams-specific platform also streamlines collaboration in several ways:
• Admins can “act on behalf” of agents to help collect eSignatures, share and edit documents or otherwise help move the deal forward in the agent’s absence.
• Customizable, time-saving templates can be preloaded with the necessary documents, people and tasks associated with a specific transaction.
• Team admins can toggle between agent profiles to better manage the details with a single log-on.
• Custom workflows help speed up compliance.
Sometimes, extenuating circumstances from an agent’s personal life can affect job performance. While it’s unfortunate that their health, family or other challenges are negatively affecting the team, the team’s support may not only be appropriate but also beneficial to the team’s long-term camaraderie.
“We don’t have a ‘three-strikes-and-you’re-out’ rule,” says Priestner. “When you are joining our team, you are putting your family’s and your life into our hands. If a person has had some personal setbacks, you have to take that into consideration.”
It’s important to remember that part of being a team is to support one another through personal challenges with the hope that the team member will return to his or her full performance once the circumstances are resolved.
Once the team leader and the agent agree on any specific problem areas, they can establish a plan to take the necessary improvements.
Kuhl has found that coaching aimed at a specific weakness often helps newer underperforming agents.
“Doing your regular prospecting by phone takes discipline,” he says. “You’re often talking to people who aren’t going to say ‘yes’ right away. And if you’re not confident about how to answer those objections, you’re going to find yourself avoiding making those calls.”
Kuhl has found that using scripts and role-playing are highly beneficial. “When you have a good answer for any kind of question that comes up,” he says, “you can really concentrate on listening to the prospect and gauging how they’re receiving what you’re saying.”
Preparing team members with role-playing scenarios allows the agent to better assess and successfully manage potential client reactions to their presentation.
Many teams provide weekly accountability and coaching workshops. Team leaders may also consider offering remedial training for underperforming agents who miss the key concepts covered in those sessions.
Real estate coach Tom Ferry often shares on social media about the high level of performance he expects from his own team, but he also reminds leaders that they must first practice the virtue of patience.
A main point of a team, he says, is for team leaders to surround themselves with smart, intelligent people who can assume tasks, so the lead can concentrate on growing the business. But the team will only progress together if their leader is investing in them.
If you’re not willing to put in the time and the energy and the resources and the training and the development and the patience to help these people mature, then three years from now we’ll be having the same conversation.
All said, if after a team leader has provided the underperforming member with every chance to improve and he or she still comes up short, then it’s probably time to let the agent go.
Even if the team member passed the screening and assessment interviews prior to joining the team, they may be unable or unwilling to align with the team’s goals.
Priestner says she’s seen a few rare cases where an agent was being honest with team leaders in the pre-employment interviews but were not being honest with themselves. It was only after working as part of the team for a while that the agent discovered that their basic “why” did not align.
“The agent may be a great person and even have a successful track record as an agent before joining the team,” she says. “But the bottom line is that if they can’t or don’t want to work as part of our system, it’s better for all of us to part ways.”
Keeping everyone on track can be challenging, but with the right playbook, systems and tools like dotloop for Teams in place, real estate teams will enjoy greater productivity and all-around contentment on the job.