Thursday, July 10, 2014

How to Deal With Difficult Team Members

Not every project team is filled with happy, smiling people who are happy to work together. I can honestly say that I have yet to work in a project which has been spoiled due to difficult team members, and long may that continue.

However, there is no guarantee that you won’t come across this situation at some point in your career as a project manager. This means that you should take some time to work out how to deal with this kind of thing.

Find Out What the Problem Is

This sounds too obvious to even mention, doesn’t it? Maybe it is but I am pretty sure that a lot of project managers have made the easy mistake of trying to sweep problems under the carpet instead of facing up to them. People rarely cause problems or behave badly unless there is a good reason for it. If you can find out what this reason is then you stand a far better chance of getting them on track as a valuable team member. It may be a simple enough task to do this but even if it isn’t it has got to be worth the effort of trying.

Don’t Drop Your Professional Standards

When someone is behaving badly the natural human reaction is to respond in the same way. Well, it might be natural but it isn’t what you should do as a project manager. The team needs you to lead them in a serious and professional way. This means maintaining your standards and responding to the troublesome team member in a professional way. You certainly don’t want to get caught up in name calling or fights with anyone on the team (or anyone else for that matter). The best way to respond to a difficult member of staff is by remaining calm and dealing with their issues in the best way possible.

Impose Your Authority Fairly

What I mean to say here is that you are project manager so you get to make the final calls but that this is a power you shouldn’t abuse. If a team member is giving you hassle then the easiest solution might seem to be to send them off to measure widgets in Ulan Bator but you need to be fair to them as well as look to solve your problems. If you are going to impose your authority on someone who is proving difficult to work with then you need to do it fairly. If you do this then you will gain the respect of the rest of the team as well as solve a problem.

Think of Alternative Solutions

When someone starts being disruptive in the team your first reaction might be to want to send them as far away as possible. This is perfectly normal but in most cases it isn’t really an option. So what are you going to do? A smart move is to sit down for a spell and think of alternative solutions which could make your life easier. For example, could you team them up with an experience mentor who could bring them back on track? Or maybe you could use them in a role which sees them feel more like they are a big part of the team rather than feeling left out. There are many different ways of getting a difficult team member back on track and sometimes all you need to do is take the time to think about them.

Value Them      

A few years ago I worked with a woman I really didn’t like. It was actually before I started working on projects but the story is still relevant to what we are looking at here. I was the head of a processing team and she was an older lady who, for some reason, had taken a step backwards in her career and was now working in a job which was so easy that she could have done it while she was sleeping. She had a terrible habit of asking me questions which I felt were designed to undermine my authority. As a relatively young team leader I was rather nervous about having such an experienced and efficient team member.  It was only after several months of banging our heads together that I came to realise that the points she made were usually very useful and that I should take them on board. Sometimes difficult team members aren’t really setting out to threaten you and can be good additions to the team if you deal with them in the right way.

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