How To Manage a “Tricky” Team Member

I was sitting having a coffee with a client last week. He talked at length about his team and how there was a problematic team member. She’d been there a long time, really knows her work inside-out, regarded as a “high performer”, but constantly creates issues in the team. When they do speak to her about her behaviour, she tows the line for a while, plays the game, then slides back into old patterns of behaviour. Does this sound like someone in your team?

It occurred to me, I hear this same story all the time. If someone is good at their job, is it really tolerable that they are negative or resistant to feedback? If someone is disruptive, but had strong output, is this something other team members need to just accept?

On my way back to the office that day, I thought about this issue at length. I think the first thing to clarify is what is actually defined as “high performance”. Whilst the team member in question may get through the work load, they are surely still not performing in a sufficient way as required by the business – not in the slightest. High-performers by nature are not combative, moody or downright rude. They take feedback and guidance and are keen to learn and grow.

Surely being able to have a positive working relationship with other co-workers and generally being a decent human-being are not optional? Why accept it is not an integral a skill as being accurate or using a software. It is completely reasonable, in fact, necessary, to make it a required aspect of the role. A colleague who is blatantly rude or uncompromising, unable to contribute to the harmony of the team dynamic, is equally as damaging as someone who constantly misses an important deadlines. As a result, it would be more than acceptable (and necessary) to treat these in a similar vein as any other performance-related issue.

So if this is something you are experiencing in your team, now is the time to grasp the nettle and have a serious conversation with the team member in question. Outline your expectations not just on how the work-itself is produced, but also on the approach to the work. Find a quiet space and sit down for a conversation. Make it clear where the short-falls are and what has to change. To illustrate your point, you might outline how fostering good relationships with other team members, a willingness to explore new ideas and being open to feedback are key requirements for performing the role successfully. And you should also now take the opportunity to be candid about the possible consequences of not meeting your expectations in these areas, including such behaviour is putting their job in jeopardy. Let’s face it, it is only fair at this point that they understand how serious the problems are.

From that point forward, you would then continue to handle these types of issues the same way you would any other behaviour that you asked a team member to change. Offer encouraging feedback if you see an improvement (“I really appreciate how open you were to hearing my thoughts on this”) or address it in a progressively more serious manner if you don’t see the improvement you need (“We talked a few weeks ago about how I need you to be open to hearing feedback about your work, but you’ve continued to seem antagonistic”.

If you are integrating new team members, you need to make it clear you do not tolerate these types of behaviours. Don’t just sit back and accept them. The key is to lay-out a clear and specific expectation around the behaviours you expect to see every day, both in your own mind and for your all your team members.

Don’t continue to accept the unacceptable.

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