“Fix ‘em or fire ‘em” is the often harsh and shocking advice I give to small business owners. Too often, they are putting up with poor or destructive performance, thus compromising the potential of their business. We’ll get into the reasons it’s difficult to fire someone in another column, but let’s focus on the physics of teams—why goal alignment is so important.

When we studied physics in high school or college, we learned that a force has two characteristics, magnitude and direction.

Now let’s consider a team. Let’s say, you are trying to move a big object, a big red ball. You know where you want to move it and you set the direction. And, you’re pulling with all your might. Joe “gets it,” and joins you in moving the object in the direction you want to go. His effort is not as strong as yours but, at least, he’s pulling in the right direction. Maybe if you talk to Joe, he might be able to increase his effort.

Mary, on the other hand is pulling a bit off target. Maybe she didn’t get the word, doesn’t know how to pull correctly, or just doesn’t agree with your direction. Part of Mary’s effort, her force, helps move the object where you want to go, but her effort also tends to pull the movement off the course you set. You have some work to do with Mary.

Herbert is a dead weight. He’d rather just sit there than participate in the project. Yes, his dead weight will also slow down or pull the project off course.

Sam is actively pulling against your direction. Maybe he disagrees with your leadership direction, wants to sabotage the project—who knows. But he is actively working against you.

  1. What does a “Fix ‘em or fire ‘em” strategy look like?

One approach is to increase your effort, then get Joe and Mary to pull harder. To do that, all of you must overcome Herbert’s dead weight and Sam’s negative force. But what are the chances your collective increased effort will overcome the resistance?

Of course, you’ll do whatever you can to align the forces. Talk to the team, talk to the individuals, give the inspiration and incentive to pull together. If, after that, Sam and Herbert have not changed their effort, what next?

To move the object, you must rid of Sam’s negative force, and get Herbert off his dime. Find out their problems, give them the incentive to cooperation and turn their arrows. If that doesn’t work, kick them off the team.

Of course, this is an overly simplistic view of team dynamics, but a clear analysis of the forces for and against your project can help define your actions. Have you been clear with your directions? Which way are the team members pulling? Goal alignment counts.