Spot the Signs of Disorganized Staff

Disorganization can spoil everything from deadlines to productive work relationships. As a manager of staff, it helps if you spot disorganized and unproductive behavior early on and seek to remedy it as best as possible. Here are some thoughts.


  1. Assess whether or not the member of staff is seeking too much hand-holding. Staff who feel compelled to continuously come to you for advice and the go-ahead might be procrastinating, unsure of their abilities and disorganized. Is a staff member coming to see you too many times to ask for advice, direction, instructions? It is likely only a problem if they do this more than you would expect of a person at that level. See How to Delegate for more advice.
  2. Watch for deadlines that pass by without adequate, timely responses. If a staff member is constantly missing deadlines, this is a red flashing light. It means such staff cannot keep track of upcoming deadlines and the need to keep things rolling along to meet the deadline. Alternately, there may be numerous excuses to postpone deadlines that ring hollow and do nothing to enhance the project being worked on.
  3. Take note of attempts to hand work portions back to you as the task delegator. This is known as "reverse delegation" and can be a little like a tennis match, with the ball being lobbed back and forth until it is clear that someone is not accepting the responsibility entrusted to them.
  4. Be wary when a staff member keeps handing in work that is substandard and needs reworking to a high degree. This isn't just about spelling, grammar and waffling errors. This is about major misunderstandings in direction, in quality level, in point-of-exercise comprehension and in producing work to a level expected of that person's abilities. It may indicate last-minute rush-jobs and lack of serious input and reflection over time.
  5. Look for signs of too much slacking off. If you keep bumping into them at the water cooler and every time you turn around they're chatting to another colleague again, this staff member is likely procrastinating and avoiding putting the head to task. Even staying late can be a sign of not making the most of hours during the day, and panicking to catch up later at night.
  6. Check your own feelings about any increased workload. If you feel that your workload is piling up and you are having to make up for poor work from someone else on the team, it is quite possible that your staff are not being adequately tasked in keeping organized. You are not supposed to make up for their shortfall; rather, you are there to manage time slips and get the right people doing the right work.
  7. Make it work better. A lot of this is your responsibility as a manager and task delegator, requiring you to spot the signs, and act immediately. Here are some ideas to deal with procrastination and under-skilling (all of these things will provide your staff with visible signposts to get on with it):
    • Get development assistance if staff need time management or organizational skills that you don't have the time to teach, or the training expertise in.
    • Keep deadlines marked on a whiteboard where all see them everyday.
    • Be regular about checking on work progress.
    • Check that work is challenging enough for staff. Sometimes missing deadlines is a sign of boredom, showing you that a staff member has outgrown what he or she used to enjoy or be good at. Maybe it is time for new skills, tasks and roles.
    • Look at training needs for upskilling. If this is not viable, consider shifting tasks around to those most capable and keeping lesser skilled staff doing tasks they are efficient at doing.


  • Keep in mind, a staff member who keeps coming back for direction may be acknowledging a delegator's (your own) tendency to micro-manage.
  • Improve resources if staff are struggling as a result of lack of access to them.
  • Try peer-watch. If you can engage peers to share projects with others, they will frown upon time-wasting behavior that cuts into their time and performance results and will help to keep the deadline missing types under more control. It isn't their role to make the colleague meet the deadline (it is still yours to manage the deadlines) but peer pressure and interlinked responsibilities are great motivators when others don't want to be let down.

Things You'll Need

  • Whiteboard or planning chart
  • Skills development courses

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