I work on a team of seven software developers where two of them have basically just given up. They got put on performance improvement plans, but instead of upping their game they are basically waiting to be fired.

Normally this would be their problem, but we are one of those places where teams are accountable for results, a.k.a. we deliver or it impacts us all in terms of promotions, bonuses, and ratings. We can't easily replace these software developers either because our company has bar raiser processes that limit our ability to bring in mediocre space fillers. So basically the team was advised to fire these people, but because of the current market and our reputation as a pressure cooker of a company and internal policy, we can't find candidates who are both "improvements to the average" and willing to work on teams like this.

So they both can’t be fired, because we can’t replace them as even a trickle is better than nothing, but because they know they aren't going to get anything from the company, they are content to get very little done, arrive late, go offline for long periods, and chat all day.

Our team manager has several teams and has written our team off as one likely to miss the deadline, so he is busy reinforcing his bonus by focusing on other teams. He also has no idea what to do with our team anyway.

For the five of us trapped on this team, we stand to lose a lot of money because of this and a lot of possibility for advancement as well. Any ideas to deal with these two software developers and try and turn them around before they sink things for us all? We are all working crazy hours already, so I am not sure that many people can do much more.

I feel helplessly stuck on a dying team.

  • 59
    "but because of the current market and our reputation as a pressure cooker of a company and internal policy" - my interpretation of this is that you're saying there's an internal policy against paying enough to hire good people?
    – Dai
    Commented Jun 8, 2021 at 1:35
  • 36
    Wow. That sounds like a horrible place to work. Which in all likelihood sounds like the company is shooting itself in the foot and will not be able to survive in the midterm... Commented Jun 8, 2021 at 13:56
  • 22
    Wait a second. They were put on PIPs even though they were critical to the team, difficult to replace and couldn't be fired??? I have no advice to salvage the situation. It's best to just chalk this up to experience and try not to let it happen again. Commented Jun 8, 2021 at 19:09
  • 39
    … we can't find candidates who are … willing to work on teams like this.” Wow, I can’t imagine why. Commented Jun 8, 2021 at 20:53
  • 10
    Do you really think you were ever going to get those bonuses?
    – Bohemian
    Commented Jun 8, 2021 at 21:01

19 Answers 19


There is no way to “turn around” these devs. Short of some come-to-Jesus experience where they decide to work hard for no good reason, they are doing the reasonable thing for the position they are in. They know the company is trying to offload them, what possible reason do they have to work hard?

And given your company’s policies, which you seem to be in no position to change, so is your boss - he's looking to optimize his bonus and the way the rules work mean that's at y'all's expense.

Looking to transfer off the team might be the quickest solution if possible (they’re not technically understaffed since they can't fire the PIPped employees so now’s the time). Or look for a job in a less cutthroat company. Otherwise you're going to go without your bonus.

You can try to convince your boss to take more vigorous action to turn around the team but it seems like the company policy is to "tar you all with the same brush" so it is highly unlikely he or anyone else will help with your plight, sad as that is. In any event, you're not getting that bonus so best you can do is set yourself up for better success next year.


You want favours from those you tried to get rid of but couldn't.

You openly admit that these people would be out the door but for company hiring rules. You know it. They know it. Everyone knows that a PIP is just paperwork collection for future termination, so in their position I would be putting my work last in favour of interviewing and networking.

Put yourself in their shoes. What would make you behave differently? I suspect you have already done this and can't think of anything.

You are stuck. You are at the mercy of people who you have nothing to credibly offer. And they know it.

Depending on how desperate you are, you might be able to offer them a percentage of the bonus for successful project completion, but I am not sure they would believe you.

Adding to the absurdity of this, it just came to mind that you needing them means that they clearly aren’t so bad as to be a hindrance, but rather were just below average performers. So your team thought it could do better, couldn’t for a couple of reasons, and is now stuck with at least somewhat serviceable people who have been converted into unserviceable people through your erroneous assumption that your team could do better.

  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – Kilisi
    Commented Jun 9, 2021 at 8:43

Instead of defending your teammates, who act reasonably, like the other posts, I will give you advice. This is the part of your post we need:

Extracting work from people who are on PIPs but who we also cannot fire?

For the 5 of us trapped on this team, we stand to lose a lot of money because of this and a lot of possibility for advancement as well. Any ideas to deal with these two devs and try and turn them around before they sink things for us all? We are all working crazy hours already, so I am not sure that many people can do much more.

I feel helplessly stuck on a dying team.

The mismatch between your title question and your post content is great. It offers you a way out: Quit this company, or at least transfer out of this team.

You say you "feel trapped in a dying team", and you are right. At least about your team dying. However, if being trapped is the problem, the solution is obvious: Break free.

There are two people whose work you need to achieve the company goals, but your company has decided to demotivate them completely. You are part of this team with no power over this situation. Having written your team off – instead of fixing the situation – it is clear your manager is exactly as powerless as you are. The situation won't change.

Your assessment of the situation is correct: There's nothing you can do about your team's situation. Someone (you) who talks about "extracting work" from teammates is too far away from sympathy to even attempt to motivate said teammates.

Here's the silver lining: You never said you care about this team. Not being the team manager, it's not even part of your job description. So leave the team.

  • Ask your boss to transfer out of this team, but don't keep your hopes up. Remember they're keeping two people on PIP chained to this team.
  • Quit this company

There are other teams in other companies, where you have "a lot of possibility for advancement" without "working crazy hours."

Your team's situation isn't your team's fault and not your team manager's fault either. What makes you think the situation is permanently better at other teams within your current company? They share the management.

  • 5
    Part of the OP's problem is "we stand to lose a lot of money because of this". It may be that transfer/quit ends up with the same result as just staying - loss of those $$$
    – Peter M
    Commented Jun 7, 2021 at 12:22
  • 43
    You can't lose what you don't have. Commented Jun 7, 2021 at 13:11
  • 8
    I should have stated it clearer, but IMHO the OP's real question is "How do I keep my bonus?", so telling him to leave/move doesn't really answer that question. However I agree that his position may be doomed.
    – Peter M
    Commented Jun 7, 2021 at 13:38
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    @PeterM His bonus is doomed already. He just hasn't realized it. In fact, his advancement is doomed at this company and he hasn't realized it. It can be surprising just how many times we have to let go of everything we have done / learned and start over in someplace else doing something different. Accepting these "sunk costs" is very freeing.
    – David R
    Commented Jun 7, 2021 at 14:10

You sound a bit too mechanical, to say the least. As I see it, you already been altered by your company`s policy to the point where you don't see people, you see functions.

And you cannot get result from a function without parameters. PIP is not a parameter.

In your position there is only one, semi functional choice, to make a pool out of your tickets and get it done using the developers that did not gave up yet. Documenting the PIPs lack of interest, contribution and progress, hoping for team`s restructuration next cycle

  • Nice answer. ...What, there's a person behind it, too? Weird... Commented Jun 7, 2021 at 2:42
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    "you cannot get result from a function without parameters. PIP is not a parameter" - I am thoroughly confused by this metaphor (or whatever it is). What is a PIP then? Why is it not a parameter? What defines a parameter?
    – NotThatGuy
    Commented Jun 7, 2021 at 2:58
  • 2
    @NotThatGuy in this example, programmatically speaking, PIP is a mutex lock :)
    – Strader
    Commented Jun 7, 2021 at 15:38
  • @ivan_pozdeev lol
    – Strader
    Commented Jun 7, 2021 at 15:39
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    @NotThatGuy and, of course, you can get a result from a function without parameters.
    – M. Stern
    Commented Jun 8, 2021 at 6:34

So they both cant be fired because we cant replace them as even a trickle is better than nothing

There seems to be a fallacy in "even a trickle is better than nothing". Even if you can't replace them, if you fire them now you save the company their salaries, right? If you think your team's project is doomed anyway, at least get credit for the cost reduction. Saving the salaries will go straight to your unit's bottom line and should be worth more than the "trickle" of work you're getting.

If you want to rescue the project, the one "carrot" you can offer them is that if they put in a reasonable effort, the company will consider their departure to be on "good terms". That is, you will give a somewhat positive reference for their future employers, that they continued to work in a professional manner under difficult circumstances. Otherwise, you and the manager will coldly confirm their "name, rank, and serial number" and do nothing to help them.

  • This is the right answer. A trickle is not better than nothing, actually. One would hope that was obvious to more people, but it seems like it's a strangely common belief.
    – B. Ithica
    Commented Jun 7, 2021 at 9:35
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    The author does not have the power to fire these individuals on a PIP, those individuals might not have reached the end of their PIP deadline, and the author has indicated the project manager has written of their team as a "lost cause" meaning they are unlikely to take the steps to fire those individuals anyways. While I agree this answer is valid for the manager, the author isn't the manager, and thus powerless in this situation. Their only recourse to save their own career is to leave the team.
    – Donald
    Commented Jun 7, 2021 at 11:54
  • @B.Ithica it depends on how the internal accounting works. All these internal evaluation systems tend to have major holes in them. It may not recognize a cost savings if a deadline is blown. Commented Jun 7, 2021 at 13:52
  • @MatthewGaiser Above the bare cost savings, though, is the morale factor. Having a "trickler" as a co-worker can be very demotivating... to the point where the other, competent and productive people on the team may well reconsider if this is a place where they really want to work. (I was thinking of this, too, when I wrote my comment, but I was in a rush and regretfully I neglected to mention it.)
    – B. Ithica
    Commented Jun 7, 2021 at 14:38
  • Blatantly not even attempting to hit the pip goals cant you fire them for taking the piss Commented Jun 10, 2021 at 23:44

The best you can do is to solve your problem, and make other people's problems more transparent.

Your problem is that your team of seven does not do the work that's expected of a team of seven. That's solvable by firing the two non-performing team members, after which - by your account - your team of five would be able to do the work expected from a team of five.

Your five people still won't be able to do the work expected of a team of seven, but that's not really your problem, but the problem of someone higher up in management. And if you communicate that correctly, this should not affect your bonuses of chance of advancement, either.

Likewise, your assumption that you won't find suitable candidates to replace the fired team members isn't your problem either, but somebody's problem higher up the hierarchy. Those managers may then decide to solve this by either settling for less qualified candidates, reducing your team's workload or living with the slipped deadline (or, in the best case, your assumption may turn out to be wrong). Either way, it's their problem to solve, and making their problem more transparent and pressing by firing the two non-performers will improve your chances that the problem draws enough attention to actual get solved.

  • 1
    I agree with this - Simply leaving the nonperformers there to trickle in bad work numbers, masks the problem and casts it upon everyone else. You need a problem for management to be able to solve. If the problem is that you've lost two bad employees - there's a clear solution, they need to hire 2 people quick. And if they can't because of lengthy onboarding processes, there's another problem that can be investigated too to prevent in the future.
    – schizoid04
    Commented Jun 7, 2021 at 16:10

Like several other answers, I want to go for the frame challenge.

You see the problem as a task, some demotivated staff on the way out who aren't replaceable yet, and a project to keep on track.

I see the problem as Darwinism applying to a toxic company. The company is devastatingly misguided and you're caught in the middle, signed up to deliver yet unable to do so within its byzantine policies/choices.

  • You have a company that fires people (PIP is going to be seen as "I'm going to be fired, well, fuck"), without first considering whether it needs them, or whether hinting they're on thin ice will impact anything that needs safeguarding - like their team's project.
  • It appears it fires them for merely being below average, without thinking of the self-damage of the impact.
  • The company has arcane policies that mean that even with people on the way out, a person in charge of a team can't actually say "I need productive replacements if these people are to be got rid of".
  • Your team manager isn't actually giving support to his team, which is a managers core job. To manage.
  • The team was "advised". You don't say if that advice was actually an implied instruction/expectation, but the team manager clearly knows the company and surely knew how the "advice" was to be taken. And arrogantly assumed people were beating at the door to work, or the task didn't need them, or misassumed it motivates. Hard core disconnect from reality.
  • Team managers response isnt to fix, but to write off. Like write off and demotivate all the other team members. You know, the productive above average ones.
  • So you have an incompetent team manager, on several scores. can't manage people, doesn't foresee human responses, doesnt understand how to motivate, doesn't have appropriate focus on task necessities, writes off a team rather than manage it or manage the problem they created, doesn't facilitate teamwork and team output. I'm sure they are great with a team of 7 people willing to be pressured and bullied (and I'll bet that's their #1 problem solving approach - make it so, buddy, or are you useless!) but that's basically an incompetent dysfunctional manager, because they can't actually manage. Just order.
  • The business is a "pressure cooker". They pay very well for success, which suggests they are extremely "carrot and stick" - willing to cast people aside or bully them.
  • This also implies that people who don't also think that way, don't get to be higher ups. Meaning it's systemic. It's pervasive. Its seen favorably and encouraged; expected and taught by example.
  • The company is well enough known for this, that people able to work well, actively avoid it. Despite financial incentives, and seeking the best, people who you want, just don't want you. That alone says volumes, god knows what your managers and management team have to do, or have done, to get that kind of terminal rep across the entire industry.
  • I'm guessing the corporate culture fosters this kind of incompetence, its not one bad person, but the culture overall. Managers being expected to act in a way that looks fine but is actually covering lack of competence at human vs task issues.
  • You're in that culture, in a team under that person, and your bonus, candidly, is being fucked over by that culture.

Frame challenge: seems you wanted high pressure/high reward, and any failure treated ruthlessly. Bonuses for all. You got the company you chose, and now you're seeing why its not always a great way to be. Because teamwork is people,and your company doesn't give a crap about people. Not really. Only results. But it depends on people and teams, and that's 100.000% people. And you're in a culture where basically, people get lip service and you're finding that you are as dispensable and easily sacrificed as anyone.

Your team didn't produce? Nobody in that kind of culture will care that you tried hard. Its completely irrelevant. You failed. And your question now is, how can you make them see you personally didn't? How can you fix your team leader's actions? Well, I think a satirical laugh is needed - what makes you think that you could get all the pluses of a company that doesn't value or work competently with people, and none of the risks or minuses?

If you don't have incredible ability to jump levels of management and talk to someone very convincingly...... you're stuffed. Write it off as experience. Hope for a miraculous 2nd chance, or move to a place with actual * managers *.

  • 1
    The team manager does not necessarily have to be that incompetent. They might be just focusing on collecting the bonus and then immediately jumping ship. No point trying to save a doomed project in a horrible work environment when you already have a new gig lined up and just need to stick around until payday.
    – TooTea
    Commented Jun 7, 2021 at 20:52
  • 6
    Then as a manager they are exhibiting incompetence. Because at best they are planning an escape and not doing the job they're paid for. However the fact the manager is still supporting some teams, writing off others, and the overall culture, means I don't buy it. Could be, but less likely. I'm going for "does not understand the difference between slavedriver and manager". From the verb "to manage". Which does not seem to be a competence. Anyone can manage a ship that doesn't in fact need managing. This ship needs managing and... yeah. Incompetence 101.
    – Stilez
    Commented Jun 7, 2021 at 21:03

In their minds, you're in the wrong. Now, it's unclear if the company is actually paying them less then they're worth in terms of objective supply-and-demand, because this internal policy you mention could confuse the issue. However, the fact that you can't replace them in time certainly makes it sound like you're asking them to work for less then the market value they'd be giving you, and that's the story they'll believe.

However, it turns out humans have many motives beyond money. Try approaching them as a fellow human, explaining what you need, and asking what you can do for them. The answer might be as simple as buying them ice cream every week.


Background: When you engage in an employment contract, these are the stipulations that you make:

The worker will give the employer X hours per week of their time (this is a meaningful distinction from "the worker will do X work for the employer"), and in exchange the company will give them Y dollars (or other local currency) per year (this is known as a "salary"). If the employee fails to give X hours of their time, or the employee has other issues (behavioural/disciplinary, productivity, etc), then the employee will cease to receive their salary and be dismissed from their requirement to give their time (this is known as "firing").

Therefore, so long as a person can be fired, the person has incentive to work hard, because if they don't then they can be fired. Conversely, so long as they are not actively being fired, they have the incentive to work hard, so that they can continue the terms of their contract and retain their salary.

What seems to have happened here is that both of these premises have been simultaneously violated: Your company has threatened to fire these people (by putting them on a PIP, which almost always ends in firing), while also not actually bring able to fire them. They have lost both "the carrot" (continuing to receive a salary into the future), by having their continuation of reward for doing good work removed, and also "the stick", by not being able to be actually fired, the standard punishment for not doing good work. And so, as they no longer have incentive to do good work, nor a punishment for doing bad work, they have decided to simply stop caring. Which is the very obvious and natural reaction to such a situation.

As for what your company/team should do about this: You need to either reinstate the incentive, or to reinstate the punishment. Regarding the incentive, if these people are doing acceptable work, then take them off the PIP (try to mask this as best you can to make it not sound like they were never on a real PIP to begin with). Encourage them to do better work as much as they can. This might be hard, because they did no work and then got taken off their PIP, so this is basically an outright statement that the threat of being fired never existed, so they're not likely to improve. But maybe they will, out of "good will" or whatever.

Conversely, you can reinstate the punishment. Which means actively recruiting for replacements for these people. People are always looking for jobs, and I assure you if you recruit then you will get applicants. Now, the issue is getting "suitable" applicants. Which brings me to the next point: There is an old adage: "Beggars can't be choosers". Your company is (or has a reputation as) a crappy place to work for, as you have described, as a "pressure cooker" and so on. And yet, you have a high recruiting bar for applicants. So good people don't want to work there because of the rough environment, but you won't hire anyone except for the best people. Which means you can't hire anyone. So, one of these things needs to change: Either your company needs to reverse its image as a high-pressure company to get better applicants, or it needs to lower its hiring bar to accept lower standards and get people in the door. Otherwise, you're a beggar trying to be a chooser.

In short, it sounds like this question needs to be asked to management, not to this message board, because the choices that need to be made here, need to be made by management. And if management won't budge, and your team is being punished for having this dead weight, then perhaps it's time to look for a new team (or new company).


You can't 'extract more work' from them. You have two viable options.

The other 5 work harder and make up the difference so you can get the bonus. Or you job search to avoid being part of the blame game.

The first has been successful for me more than once in different industries. In a four man team, there was a serious issue and two of us told the boss he could get rid of the other 2 and we'd handle the whole job, we worked very hard but we doubled our money. In your case you have 5 people who could work together to replace 2 which doesn't seem insurmountable to me.

  • 2
    Good answer. I would add that as part of the load balancing of work, reprioritize tasks and adjust estimates so that the core team is working on stuff the business actually needs.
    – selbie
    Commented Jun 7, 2021 at 3:08
  • 6
    That's an odd thing to say for an experienced user ;-). The OP said "we are all working crazy hours already". The current situation with "crazy hours" is not sustainable; there is simply no room to increase output by just doing more of the same. What is needed here is a reassessment and reorganization, and probably improved teamwork, improved spirit, better management support, better company organization ("no idea what to do with our team"). Commented Jun 7, 2021 at 7:18
  • 4
    @Peter-ReinstateMonica you should compose an answer based on that. I just stated what worked for me. 3 weeks insane work netted me an extra $15000 after which I quit.
    – Kilisi
    Commented Jun 7, 2021 at 7:19
  • 1
    @Stilez no, you get the money and you quit. It's not a place you want to work except short term for the bonus
    – Kilisi
    Commented Jun 9, 2021 at 8:12
  • 1
    Won't work. If all 5 would take the bonus and quit, maybe. But we don't even have any evidence the OP would want to quit (although many here suggest it). Let alone inciting all 4 of his remaining peers to quit as well. So it won't work - those who wouldnt want to quit (anything up to all 4 of his peers) will be in the situation I describe. Your comment only works if none of the team are left in that position because they all quit after bonus time. That seems..... remarkably unlikely.
    – Stilez
    Commented Jun 9, 2021 at 8:15

feel helplessly stuck on a dying team.

This should be the title of the question and this should be put first and not last. Because this is the real issue that you, hopefully can fix.

You seem to know that your team have a terrible reputation of being toxic and abusive environment, so that nobody who has any other options would like to work with you, and those who are desperate enough, aren't even close to the average. I assume you were all working hard for that reputation and that damage will be hard to repair, but not impossible.

Working 'crazy hours' yourself (and making pressure on others) without a perspective of even being rewarded extra for that is plain dumb, and even with an extra reward, it's still a life choice. Not everyone need more money, at the expense of the opportunity to make reasonable use of them. There's no bonus for dying rich. And making pressure on others to make overhours is toxic. But you've already noticed that.

As for the collegues - honestly, how do you want to motivate them? Tell them to make extra hours to get no bonus and get fired anyway, when they can get the same money doing as little as possible, with the same output? This expectation is insane!

Instead, focus on improving the team. Stop making pressure, stop making overhours, start making realistic deadlines. And maybe the rest of your team would not end up like those 2, or even better, bring medical statement with the burnout diagnosis and paid time off for the next year.


I think a two-pronged approach is called for here.

The "tactical" one focuses on the two undead team members. I'd be brutally honest with them and simply try to task them with things they really like to do anyway. In my experience, developers often like to code; but perhaps the current task is boring or not their forte. If you can find something they have an intrinsic motivation for anyway you may get results even though they don't identify with the company any longer. So approach them openly, get to a common understanding of the situation, and ask them what they would like to do. Typically there are backburner tasks lingering: Some tool that would be nice to have, a general parser for some data structures, a prototype for some idea, an evaluation of a new programming language. That's perhaps a bit unfair (why would they be allowed to pick and choose?) but may be a way to get something out of them.

The strategic approach would address some of the oddities you mention. Why is your team at their limit even though the management doesn't know what to do with you? How can you get more management support? Is there a more holistic approach to increase the team's output than just to up the hours? Team spirit, cooperation, tools, hardware, management support, flexible work hours allowing for hobbies or child care, distributing the tasks according to people's inclinations — try to take a step back and look at the larger picture, and how to improve it.

And then of course, as I said in a comment, the market being what it is suggests that you should not feel trapped in a bad situation for which the management is responsible but which it shows no inclination to fix. Letting everybody just work crazy hours and then some is a tad disingenuous as the main management method.


Many answers, so I'll give one more :-) This obviously depends a lot on your country/company/personal culture regarding collectiveness.

If you can't win them, join them

It seems to me that your employer/employee situation is asymmetrical. The employer has very high expectations of employees ("reputation as a pressure cooker of a company"), but employees get very little "above-average" in return. (First guess: work-life balance. Second guess: remuneration, but there comes a point when all the salary in the world does not make up for loss of quality of life any more.) So it would seem your two colleagues are in a position to give to the employer similar to what they feel they are getting, which is below-average performance. They seem to feel powerless to change the status quo in any other way.

  1. First Option: get your whole team (all 7) together and get consensus around this. It sounds as others also feel similarly disadvantaged, but have not had the courage to do something about it (yet), and the 2 disaffected members can be convinced to turn around and work together with the rest. Elect one spokesperson, mandate him what to say for all of you, and go to management with a plan to improve your situation (not just willy-nilly demands, but sound long-term business benefits). Make sure that the employer understands that if unhappiness does not improve, the whole team will experience burn-out sooner or later, accelerated by the firing of the 2 slackers. And since the team have collectively come to this conclusion, they feel it is in their best interest to rather all resign simultaneously (not as a threat but as a self-preserving way to escape the increased pressure on anyone remaining). Try to be cooperational rather than confrontational. But don't bluff, have other jobs/savings ready... If you have unions in your workplace or know someone experienced in labor negotiations, this would be a good time to get them on board.
  2. So the previous one may be out of many people's comfort zone. Some may see Machiavelli in it. The other option is to get the other 5 together, agree to do the 2's work, and approach the employer with the suggestion to fire them (reference Kilisi's answer). This however needs to be in exchange for written agreements from the employer regarding (a) sharing of bonuses between the 5, and (b) a deadline for recruiting new team members. 5 won't be able to carry the work indefinitely, and new joiner(s) will take up some of your time for integrating into the team too.

Look, I'm not in favour of a toxic employer/employee relationship. Many other answers have touched on points that are important to me in an employment relationship, e.g.:

  • Seeing employees as humans with lives outside the workplace, not as fungible soulless resources.
  • Developing employees and steering their growth, as opposed to extracting labor/value out of them (but grown employees incidentally have a greater capacity to produce value).
  • Rewards other than simply money (or the lack of). Even buying a box of snacks or a ping-pong table doesn't cut it (still demeaning to a human).
  • Work satisfaction as opposed to employment as a means to earn money only. I quite like (although not zealously evangelising it) the ideas of the "strengths" movement, which at its most fundamental says that if people can play to their strengths each day (things they are instinctively good at an energize them and make them feel accomplished) and growing their capacity in that area instead of trying to correct weaknesses (because another team member should ideally have his strength in that area), a team/organization can be much more successful. Many different approaches and resources are available (do a websearch) like Gallup's Clifton StrenghtsFinder, 16personalities's MBTI analysis, DiSC, etc. etc. But ideally this is not a grassroots initiative, one should get buy-in from whoever leads the (part of the) organization that is to benefit.

Conclusion: If you go in this direction, you as a team (whatever remains) should start to organize yourselves to take up the slack that you expect from your management, and start to "manage up". This may make the manager uncomfortable, depending on his leadership ability, but a good manager and a cooperational manage-up approach could potentially be a good thing which frees up the manager for more important things.

  • 3
    I thought there was going to be a remark in here about actually joining them, i.e. they're getting paid for sitting around twiddling their thumbs, and your outcome is predetermined as a result, so sit around and twiddle your thumbs (or do whatever suits you) Commented Jun 8, 2021 at 21:00
  • @user1207217 I hope my answer has sufficient exhortation to turn the situation into a win-win for most, or all, the parties affected :-)
    – frIT
    Commented Jun 9, 2021 at 10:28
  • @user1207217, I don't think the OP sounds psychologically prepared for that approach. He hasn't even given up hope for his bonus yet, or formulated any idea that he should be paid properly for normal working hours.
    – Steve
    Commented Sep 7, 2021 at 11:07

If I were you, I would go the other way and level with them.

See if there's some way you can split the bonuses you WOULD get, with them, if they just get off their bums and get things done.

It's not FAIR, but if you really want that money, getting PART of these bonuses is better than getting none at all.

See if you can get HR or someone to okay something like this.... If not,

Sit them down in a room and say hey. We need you to perform better. I understand you might need some more motivation to hit this goal before you're out the door, which based on the PIP, I know you know it's happening.

Maybe I can't promise you a bonus, because they won't approve it, but HEY, if you say you have another offer, we MIGHT be able to offer you something to RETAIN you here, as losing you would surely suck. Hint hint.

HR might be willing to shell out the money to pay them a bit extra if they're suddenly threatening to leave without notice, they'll get a little extra incentive, and maybe you'll hit your bonus goals


Speak with them, about your and your team's struggle. No one is bad in the world, all they need their recognition and presence known to others give them some enthu to participate in your team. Make it positive. Try to understand their needs and fulfill them. Maybe that fix their mind let them push into the work by themselves.

  • 4
    The 2 team members have already been pretty much told they are worthless and going to be fired, anyway, and the OP doesn't have power to change that. Given that they're at a dead end, anyway, what exactly should the OP say, that will enthuse them, sound positive, or fulfill them, at work?
    – Stilez
    Commented Jun 8, 2021 at 4:34

I get the idea from your post that the actual problem of your team is that it lacks man/woman-power to do its job/meet the deadline. In my opinion this might be due the fact that you are too picky with hiring.

We can't easily replace these devs either because our company has bar raiser processes that limit our ability to bring in mediocre space fillers.

By definition most people and therefore developers are about mediocre, this doesn't mean they can't be a valuable addition to your team.

So my advice is to just hire some people to add to your team even if they are not the best-of-the-best rockstar developer gurus. Since your company doesn't really seem to mind to keep 2 developers on the payroll (which in its eyes) contribute hardly anything, money should not be a problem.


Another possibility - fire the two guys, and use the money to bring on a freelancer who's good enough and experienced enough to make the project work.

The advantages are that they don't have to meet the company's hiring criteria, and that they're doing this for a short period of time, which deals with burnout issues.

  • Why wouldn't the freelancer have to meet the company's hiring criteria? It would still be the company doing the hiring if they're using the money freed up by not paying the salary of the fired two developers. Wouldn't this also require them to keep hiring different freelancers if they can't get someone for the full time position?
    – BSMP
    Commented Jul 5, 2021 at 19:24
  • @BSMP, I assumed that the company's criterion for contract work was different. And I didn't write clearly; I assumed this would be a contract position. In most workplaces I've been in, contractors don't have to jump as many hurdles. Commented Jul 5, 2021 at 22:20
  • @BarryDeCicco, I think you're failing to grasp the company's likely circumstances. If they were willing to pay one person double, competition for those contractors would quickly mean paying them triple, so there'd be no profit in the activity. Moreover, many of these low-road firms are financed by banks in order to assault better players in the market, by using worse management and cheaper workers. If they start competing on wages with the better players, they'd be undermining the purpose for which they are financed, or they'd be undermining the market position they are seeking to occupy.
    – Steve
    Commented Sep 7, 2021 at 11:15

Your colleagues had a choice when going on performance improvement: they could improve, or wait out the clock before resigning or being formally fired. They chose the latter. Bringing people around once a PIP process has started is not impossible, but it is difficult, and they have to want to change.

Software development is a complex, collaborative, knowledge worker job with long-lasting artifacts that have ongoing impact on quality and productivity. It can involve a lot of communication and building on other people's work. You will lose more time trying to turn around or work closely with people mismatched to the job than with a smaller, more focused team. Codebases also always have improvements that could be made. I suggest you find a feature or preferably internal improvement that is not on the critical path for your nearterm deliveries, with a clearly defined scope, and get the two developers to work on that. Then if they decide they want to improve their performance and start delivering, they still can, but if not, you can keep whatever changes have value, or throw them all away if they don't.

Personally I would consider the bonus money already lost, but whether you chase that or not, you will be more effective and less stressed by splitting into core and supplemental sub-teams in the near term. The work environment doesn't sound terribly appealing either, and you can make your own decisions on where you want to be in the medium term.

  • Or PIP is just an euphemism(?) It is already too late(?) Commented Jun 7, 2021 at 16:33
  • @PeterMortensen: PIP really means period to document reason to fire.
    – Joshua
    Commented Jun 7, 2021 at 19:26
  • Depends on the org, the employee, and the manager. Sometimes a PIP is a genuine attempt to turnaround the person, sometimes it's just generating a paper trail to make firing them defensible. I understand the cynicism about the former, but it exists. See also the @JoelEtherton comment on the answer by MatthewGaiser.
    – Adam Burke
    Commented Jun 8, 2021 at 0:17

we can't find candidates who are both "improvements to the average" and willing to work on teams like this.

"Improvements to the average"? It sounds like even "average" would be better than these two. You could just fire them anyway and take what replacements you can get. You say yourself you're putting up with a "trickle" at the moment.

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