Fourteen pairs of eyeballs stare at the polished hardwood floor with 14 pairs of hands clutching athletic shorts, just above the knees. Fourteen diaphragms heave in and out, and the collective sweat will require a mop. It’s only 30 minutes into the intense practice, but 14 players already are in bodily discomfort. But it’s okay because they know the old adage is true – no pain, no gain.

Unfortunately, the 15th player has yet to join her teammates. While the first 14 into the building had already drudged through the first half-hour warm-up, the 15th was in the parking lot of the athletic facility, leaning up against her boyfriend’s car, smooching and hugging up on her man. While her teammates busted their fannies.

When the 15th player finally decided to waltz into the gymnasium, she sauntered up to the head coach and lied. She told the coach that she was late to practice because she had to stay after class to discuss a project with her professor, and it took longer than she had planned. True to her word, when she sat in the player’s living room when she recruited her and told her mommy and daddy that academics come first, the coach said it was not an issue. Go get changed, get stretched, and get into the practice as quickly as possible.

The problem is, the other 14 players know the truth. They all passed by and saw their 15th teammate in the parking lot with her boyfriend. Can there be a positive outcome to this seemingly negative situation?

This scenario was posed to me by Hall of Fame coach Jody Conradt, and she told me that her biggest challenge was that, later in her career, her players thought ‘leadership’ was a dirty word. That can make this instance a greater challenge.

The first 14 players in the gym know why the 15th player was late, AND they know that she lied to the head coach about her reason for being tardy.

If you’re a team captain, what do you do? The 14 players will resent the 15th because they’re working, and the 15th is slacking. There will be trust issues because the assumption will be if you can lie to the head coach’s face, what’s to stop you from lying to your teammates? And, there will be questions and concerns about the 15th player’s commitment to the team. All three of these question marks present an obstacle to team success. If you’re a team captain and fail to act, you risk the collective success of the team. But what should you do?

Business owners often are faced with similar challenges with team members.

What if an employee is consistently late to work while everyone else is on time? What if you can’t trust a colleague or employee to perform in the best interests of the company or organization? What if an employee is constantly selfish, and puts their own interests ahead of the team’s or company’s best interests? What if you, as the business owner, don’t know about these transgressions?

There are four possible outcomes for the basketball scenario. The first option is for the team captain(s) to do nothing, pretend that the incident never happened, and hope that it blows over and all 15 players forget about it and life goes on. The second option is to go to the head coach, in private, and tattle tale on the lying player. The third option would be to call out your offending teammate in front of the team in the locker room after practice. Finally, you could wait for the appropriate moment for the captain(s) to pull the offending teammate aside privately and explain why her behavior was unacceptable and that she owes the team an apology. I would take it a step further and strongly suggest that the offending player meet with the coach, privately, and tell the coach of her transgressions, and apologize.

IMHO, the first two options are non-starters because the possible outcomes don’t bode well for the team. Without knowing the personality of the offending player and her teammates, and the relationship of the group, I can’t rule out option three. Personally, I think option four works best.

A couple of reasons why. You’ll earn respect if you give it. If the offending player has any conscience, she’ll know that she violated the sacred, unwritten team rules, and she’ll appreciate that you did not embarrass her. Your fellow teammates will respect you because you did your duty as team captain, which is to always look out for the best interests of the team. The head coach will trust you even more because of the thoughtful way you conducted your business.

As a business owner, department director, or team captain, you’ve got to realize that we humans are going to make mistakes. Most times, they are not of malicious intent. Are you creating an environment in your workplace where you turn mistakes into teaching and learning moments so that your team can grow? Or are you simply looking to punish the guilty party?

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