Looking at Your Team 

Let’s think about your organization being divided up into four quadrants. One quadrant holds those team members who are high individual performers with healthy relationships. That’s the quadrant you want everyone to be in. The next quadrant is also made up of high individual performers, but they have unhealthy relationships. The third quadrant would be low-performing individuals, but they have healthy relationships. And the final, fourth quadrant also contains the low-performing individuals, and these folks also have unhealthy relationships. These are the individuals who do not make positive contributions to the team members in the other quadrants. 

Now, here’s a question for you. How do we know who needs discipline, when they need it, and how much they need? Not only do you need to look at individuals in your team and how they are performing in those four quadrants, but you also need to examine where your team lies as a whole and in which quadrant. How do you know what quadrant your team is in? Wherever the bottom person is, that’s where the team is. Your team’s performance is determined by which quadrant your lowest performing team member is in. That really determines where your team is actually functioning. If you have one person in that last quadrant who is a low-performing individual with unhealthy relationships, that is the quadrant where the whole team is.  

So what do we have to do to get the whole team in the first quadrant where they are all high-performing individuals with healthy relationships? The first thing we have to do is stage one, and that is to build trust and cast vision. Even when people move into that first quadrant, we can still talk about the discipline model, but those people are not going to need discipline nearly as much as the people in the other quadrants.  

What Is Discipline? 

Let’s talk about the definition of discipline. Our discipline model works with employees, and it works with children. I do highly encourage you, though, not to use this model with your spouse, but it does work with those people with whom you have authority.  

What is discipline? Discipline is training to elicit a certain pattern or behavior. If you’ll notice, I didn’t say punishment. Instead, it’s training. What’s the difference in training people as compared to punishing them? The first thing we need to understand is that discipline is done with stories and questions. To discipline someone, you do it by telling stories and asking questions. What does that mean? It means we’re going to make sure the people understand through the questions that they’re making a mistake. We’re going to be sure they understand they are either not performing or that their relationships are not good.  

The First Meeting and the Discipline Questions 

In this first meeting you have together, you will ask questions. The questions you ask are up to you and dependent upon the specific discipline situation, but here’s a format that simply asks these basic questions. 

  1. What are you doing? 
  1. What are you supposed to be doing? 
  1. Are you doing it? 

Those questions that you adapt from these have to correlate with whatever they’re doing wrong either relationally or in performance.  

Now it’s important as a leader that we are transparent. Think about if we were vulnerable, if, when we were telling our children or our employees about discipline, we tell our story about when maybe we messed up in a similar way and how we overcame it. When we do that, we’ve taken a lot of stress out of the room. 

Once we ask those first three questions, we are going to go to the fourth question, and we’re going to be sure they understand what we expect either relationally or in performance.  

  1. Do you understand and have we given you the tools you need to do your job? 

Many times people don’t understand what we really want and expect.   

Once we clarify question four, we’re going to ask the next question. 

  1. Let’s agree on how long it will take you to do it  

And we’re going to agree on that time period. 

A Successful Discipline Example 

Let’s just say the problem is being late to work all the time. We ask the first three questions. They admit to being late to work and now they understand they’re supposed to be at work at 8:00am. So we them ask them how long is it going to take for you to get to work at 8:00am. Let’s say that we agree on thirty days. Right then, we’re both going to put on our calendars that we’ll get back together in thirty days and see how they’re doing.  

Now we’re going to go to a second meeting. In that second meeting, if they’ve been successful in doing what we’ve asked them to do, we’re going to congratulate them, so 

  1. Congratulate them on their success 

Let them know that this piece of paper where we recorded everything we talked about now will go in their employee file. Then date it, you sign it, they sign it, and put it in their file. Complete the next two steps: 

  1. Write everything down and everyone signs the agreement 
  2. Put the agreement in their employee file 

And then congratulate them that they have been successful and tell them that this documentation is in their employee file and you’re glad that they have been successful. But also tell them if we have to come back and talk about this again it won’t be the same meeting. It will be the second meeting in the future if they become unsuccessful. 

The Second Meeting and the Discipline Questions 

At the second meeting, what do we do? We ask questions and tell stories. When we come back as a leader to that second meeting, we ask the same, exact three questions: 

  1. What are you doing? 
  1. What are you supposed to be doing? 
  1. Are you doing it? 

Whatever questions you wrote down in the first meeting, assuming they have been unsuccessful, you’re going to ask your same questions again.  

Then this will be the fourth question: 

  1. Didn’t we agree to . . . . (And refer back to what you had agreed to and see the answer to #5 from the first meeting) 

And now you’re going to make another agreement: 

  1. So let’s agree on how long it will take you to do it 

Now this time, the big difference is the sixth question. This time, you’re going to ask what the consequence is if you don’t do what you’ve agreed to. 

  1. What will the consequence be if the agreement is broken again? 

And you’re going to agree if they’re not successful in doing what you both agreed to, there’s going to be a consequence.  

For me personally, that consequence is probably going to be that we’re not going to meet again, and the next meeting will probably be in the HR department because this probably isn’t the right place for you. If they want to behave that way or if they want to perform that way, it’s going to be better if they do it someplace else. 

A First, Unofficial Meeting  

This tool is legal, and it works. The one thing I’d encourage you to do though to be the kind of leader we’re talking about, before you ever get to this discipline tool is that you would have a one-on-one meeting that’s all verbal. None of it would get written down. If you have that meeting and it’s all verbal, it’s kind of an unofficial official meeting, and, many times, that’s all it takes to resolve relational or performance issues. That’s why I encourage you to have that one verbal meeting first before you go to these two official meetings where you record them and put them in their employee file.  

Punishment Versus Discipline 

We get told over and over again from parents and from bosses how much this takes the stress out of doing discipline. Why? You never have to fire anybody again. You always make it their choice. If it’s your children, they learn how to help decide what the discipline is, with your guidance, based on what their behavior is or what their attitude is.  

Remember, discipline is training to elicit a certain pattern or behavior. Here’s the difference in punishment versus discipline? Punishment is about you, and discipline is about them. As transformational leaders, we want to make discipline and improvement about them! Not about us! As transformational leaders, this discipline model helps our team move into and stay in that first quadrant of high individual performers who have healthy relationships.  

Ford Taylor is a leadership strategist, keynote speaker, and the author of Relactional Leadership. As the Founder of Transformational Leadership, he is known as a man who can solve complex business issues, with straightforward practical solutions, while maintaining his focus on people.