How Uncertainty Affects Team Performance

Published on May 28, 2011 in "Top Ten" Lists | No Comments

Top 10 consequences of readiness uncertainty on team performance.

When a team member lacks confidence or is unprepared to perform their duties, the possibility for problems, failure, and disaster increases. Job performance can become more dependent on chance and the hope that team members will “do the right thing” than on a state of demonstrated readiness and proven processes for getting the job done successfully.

The word, “uncertainty,” has synonyms such as unreliable, undependable, unpredictable, insecurity, problematical, and precarious. The level of uncertainty a team member feels is directly related to his or her state of readiness capability, and how he or she feels about the readiness capabilities of fellow team members. Uncertainty affects team members on two sides – an inward uncertainty about their own capabilities, and an outward uncertainty about the capabilities and competence of their fellow team members. Uncertainty effects three key areas of team performance: knowledge, execution, and behavior.

Individual team members achieve “readiness” when they can repeatedly and confidently demonstrate the ability to perform their required duties – on time, without error, safely, as expected. When a team member has not achieved readiness, uncertainty is present and can have a number of negative consequences on team performance. We list our “Top 10” Consequences of Uncertainty below. We also list some suggestions for how uncertainty can be reduced or eliminated by achieving team readiness.


1. Stress.

  • Stress is a physical, mental, or emotional strain or tension that results from the activities and challenges of everyday life.
  • A certain level of stress can be positive. It can help motivate us to action and sharpen our senses in times of importance when we have to perform at our best. Too much stress can have negative results that cause us to think and behave in undesirable ways and cause health problems. When a team member is unable to do their job properly because they do not know how, it can result in an unhealthy level of stress that, in addition to health problems, can have the consequences referenced herein.
  • Team members, especially team leaders, can also experience stress when they lack confidence in the ability of their fellow team members. Uncertainty about how well others will perform can be a major source of anxiety resulting in emotional, physical, and behavioral issues.

2. Task Avoidance.

  • Task avoidance occurs when a team member knows exactly what needs to be done, but does not do it because they do not know how or because they lack confidence. In such cases, the end result (the task) is very clear but the step by step procedure to achieve it is not (e.g., performing preventive maintenance on a machine, filing a tax return, cleaning up a messy desk). When a person does not know how to do their job or perform a specific task they may intentionally delay taking action in the hopes that they will feel more confident at another time, or that it will somehow “miraculously” get done, or that the uncompleted task will go unnoticed.
  • Task avoidance is often the result of a fear of failure; a fear motivated by what others will think if they “mess up.” Someone may avoid doing a task for fear of damaging their reputation or of being labeled “incompetent.” Often the person will make it appear that he or she just did not have time to do the job rather than the true cause, that they intentionally avoided it because of lack of knowledge or confidence. Task avoidance tends to affect tactical issues and is often the result of not having good procedures, plans, documentation, or instruction manuals.
  • Failure to do a job or task can create a number of problems including the obvious consequences of not having the job completed, safety issues causing injury or loss of life, equipment and product failures, rework, plant shut-downs, work stoppage, and customer orders to be wrong.

3. Indecision.

  • Indecision often occurs when two or more choices are present and the person making the decision is anxious about the potential outcome. Sometimes the root of indecision is not wanting responsibility for the outcome. The decision maker is worried about the consequences of having to live with a “bad” decision. Indecision tends to be associated with issues that are more strategic in nature (e.g., should a new product development program be funded or cancelled, creating a new marketing presentation, what should the engineering design specification be for a new product, how much money should be charged for a new service offering).
  • Indecision is often the result of not having good decision making processes, plans, or policies. It can cause delays or hours and hours spent staring out the window thinking about what to do. Some teams will get bogged down in “analysis paralysis.” Others, in an effort to do something, may engage in risky guessing based on a “gut feel” with no basis in logic.

4. Mistakes.

  • When a person attempts to do a job they do not know how to do, it can lead to mistakes. Some mistakes are expected as a normal part of learning and can be easily corrected. But other mistakes can have disastrous consequences.

  • Many jobs have plenty of unique challenges and opportunities for creative problems solving, risk taking, and the reasonable expectation of making some mistakes. However, those same jobs often involve tasks and procedures that known tools, techniques, and the experience of others can be applied to mitigate the risk and consequences of mistakes. When team members have access to helpful knowledge, uncertainty and the likelihood of needless mistakes can be lessened.

5. Inefficiency.

  • Inefficiency occurs when resources are wasted while trying to achieve a desired outcome. Often it involves the wasting of time, effort, and materials when a person does not know how to do something. In order to classify something as “waste” there must be a reasonable alternative to the factor causing the waste (e.g., using a check-list to do a procedure confidently, timely, safely, and correctly instead of going from memory and making mistakes).
  • Waste may include things like, forgetting how to do something and having to re-figure it out, adding steps to an assembly process because of poor training, having to make several trips to the stock room because of a poorly designed work process, and hunting around for a paper document that might otherwise have been stored securely online.
  • Delays, mistakes, rework, wasted materials, and expenses are frequent operating results of inefficiency. Customer dissatisfaction, team member dissatisfaction, lost sales and lost profit are often the strategic result.


  • Hostility in the team may be the outward expression of an inward stress caused by frustration and disappointment when a team member cannot do his or her job. Team members who are unable to perform their job function or are masking insecurity and fear associated with uncertainty, can become difficult to work with, antagonistic, uncooperative, angry, and unfriendly.
  • Hostility can result in a bad attitude that has negative consequences for the team, suppliers, and customers. “One bad apple can spoil the whole bunch” and can bring down the team’s morale, productivity, innovation, and problem solving.

7. Poor Customer Service.

  • Customer Service includes all interaction between team members and customers that lead to sales, support, and the spreading of goodwill. Effective customer service requires competence, discipline, and proper attitude. A team member who cannot deliver the expected results to the customer, properly manage the customer relationship, or who cannot behave diplomatically in the presence of an upset customer can wreak havoc on sales.
  • Poor customer service can cause customers to stop buying your product or service, punish you with law suits, make difficult demands, bad mouth you to others in the marketplace, or fail to serve as a reference. Poor customer service can lead to negative publicity and a public relations nightmare. The damage caused by poor customer service in the market place can result in not just the loss of current customers, but prospective future customers as well.

8. Negative Reputation.

  • Reputation is the opinion others form about your organization based on what they experience directly or hear from others. Reputations are made from judgements about your day-to-day operations, product and services, marketing, sales, public relations, the media, online activity, strategic initiatives, charitable and political contributions, community outreach programs, and what others are saying about you. Uncertainty in each of these areas present the possibility for team members to do something that could damage your reputation.
  • A negative reputation can turn customers and potential customers away, reduce your ability to attract talented people to your team, cause investors pull out of your business, and, if you are a publicly traded company, it can lower your stock price.

9. Low Customer Satisfaction, Low Employee Satisfaction.

  • Satisfaction is a measure of how well a person’s desires and expectations are being met for a particular relationship. It directly impacts a customers’ or team members’ level of dedication, support, contribution, cooperation, and morale. When customers and/or employees experience low satisfaction, they lose their desire to participate in the relationship. Low customer satisfaction affects sales. Low employee satisfaction affects productivity and innovation.
  • Three key areas of team performance affect satisfaction scores – knowledge, execution, and behavior. When a customer concludes that your organization can’t answer questions, cannot deliver, and/or treats him or her poorly, they become dissatisfied. When an employee does not have the knowledge to do his or her job, encounters roadblocks or confusion when trying to execute, and/or believes that those charged with managing or cooperating with him or her mistreats them, does not care about them, or minimizes them in some way, it leads to low satisfaction. The uncertainty that exists in an organization with low satisfaction scores is due to an apparent uncertainty in knowledge, in how to execute, and in the proper way to behave.

10. Lost Profits.

  • Simply stated, profit is the money left over from sales revenue after expenses are paid. If expenses are greater than sales, the organization experiences a loss. But when an organization is not making as much money as it could because of all the issues identified herein, that money is considered lost profit.
  • Similar to low satisfaction scores, lost profit can be attributed to the uncertainty team members have with their ability to do their job properly. Either because they lack the knowledge, have trouble executing, or do not exhibit the proper behavior.

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TeamReadiness Helps Your Team
Eliminate Uncertainty

  • 1. TeamReadiness makes it easy to capture and share the knowledge team members need to do their jobs.

  • 2. We document the plans, procedures, processes, policies, best practices, and training courses your team members need.

  • 3. TeamReadiness documentation is highly visual, easy-to-use and easy-to-understand.

  • 4. TeamReadiness documentation provides powerful knowledge that team members, suppliers, and customers need.

  • 5. Our TRM On Demand™ software provides easy and secure online access to your documentation, training, and records.

  • 6. Easily create online tests and course completion certificates that reinforce learning and build esprit de corps.

  • 7. Easily communicate and collaborate with your team to optimize knowledge and learning.

  • 8. TeamReadiness gets people involved and engaged in ways that promote “buy-in,” sharing, collaboration, and cooperation.

  • 9. TeamReadiness documentation breaks learning down into small, quick, easily understood videos or other formats.

Let TeamReadiness help. We can assist with the entire process to quickly and cost effectively mitigate the risk of uncertainty and achieve team readiness!


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