Subscribe to My Feed   Follow Me On Twitter   Join Me On LinkedIn   Friend Me On Facebook

Helping a Problem Team Member

Who isn’t well liked by the others and doesn’t seem to care…

Here’s a story to consider. I was approached by an individual we’ll call Susan for suggestions on how to manage an employee who frequently had to work on project teams and who was not getting along with others and, based on past experiences with nearly 2/3 of the members of the project team to which he was currently assigned, was not well liked.

Some background…

A little background about the new member of the team – who we will call “Jack.” Jack had exceptionally strong technical skills. In fact, he had the most technical expertise within the business, able to learn new technologies rapidly and was outstanding at choosing the best technical solution to an issue. The problem, Jack was not good, at all, at the “soft skills.” He succeeded at his activities, but left lots of bodies behind. Specifically, Jack:

  • Was not a team player
  • Did not communicate well others within the organization
  • Was critical of others on the team
  • Refused to attend project team meetings

Jack’s behavior was tolerated because he always came through and his solutions to problems were perfect. However, it was becoming increasingly difficult to get him on a project team. Other team members – many who had worked with him in the past – were refusing to work with him on a project team. Some had gone so far as to request being removed from a project he was involved in because they did not want to deal with him any longer.

Susan had tried a number of interventions with Jack, including:

  • Sending him to training classes focused on communicating with others and working as a member of a project team
  • Talking to him about the situation and how he was perceived by others
  • Providing him a coach

Nothing seemed to help. The better Jack became at the technical aspects of his role, the worse he seemed to perform on project teams. Basically – his strengths had gone to his head! We reviewed the feedback from the training classes he attended. He noted in evaluations he completed that the workshops were a waste of his time and were useless. I asked for feedback from the coaching session and was told that, after only 3 sessions, the coach quit the assignment stating that Jack was disagreeable and had no interest in changing how others perceived him. However, it should also be noted that Jack was not able to choose the coach and the coach selected was not, frankly, a good fit for Jack from Susan’s perspective so she was not surprised the coach didn’t work out.

What to do…

Susan and I discussed the situation. In particular, the damage this individual was having on the morale of the rest of the employees in the organization and that he really didn’t seem to fit into the culture of the organization. Susan noted that she felt that the tolerance of Jack’s behavior was definitely starting to diminish. In the past, she would have found it difficult to have this conversation with me because she would have known that Jack had support at the top of the ladder within the organization and there was nothing she could do to improve the situation. Today, however, she noted, that support, if it still existed in some pockets, was soon to be gone. When I asked her how the change came about – meaning, why did Jack no longer have support; Susan told me the following:

  • In the past two years, 4 individuals who were quite successful on project teams and certainly valued employees had left the company (1 had gone to a competitor). During the exit interviews, they noted that they could no longer work with Jack.
  • It was becoming increasingly difficult to place Jack on project teams. It seems that when he joins a team, the work of the team falls behind and issues begin to arise.
  • Jack “had it out” in the hallway with one of the executives.

I asked Susan if they wanted to “save” Jack; or did they prefer he leave the company. She told me she asked Jack’s manager (one of the executives) and another executive the same question as she didn’t want to waste time trying to help him if the company didn’t want to be bothered anymore. Both told her to see what she could do.

You see, Jack had promise and potential. He just had some really “rough edges.” However, those rough edges could really have an impact on not just Jack’s success, but frankly the success of the organization as a whole. It was interesting that two of the executives wanted to see him succeed, especially since in a short timeframe they lost 4 good employees. When asked why they felt he should try to be helped, Jack’s manager acknowledged that he had let this go on too long and need to reflect on what had happened here and why it had gone so off track. The other executive felt that everyone needed a chance to improve. He recalled a situation somewhat similar with himself when he was in the beginnings of his career.

And we made a plan…

In conversations with Susan, Jack’s manager and a few other executives over the next few days after our initial meeting, the following was decided:

  • Jack’s manager and Susan would meet with Jack to explain the situation and that it had to change and why it had to change.
  • Jack would be removed from projects for a period of time while he worked with a coach.
  • Jack would be able to choose his coach from 2 – 3 options provided by human resources (the coach would be an external coach)

From here, Jack and his coach would decide on the best approach to take to improve how Jack works with others. Jack would be given 6 months to show some progress. If there was progress, Jack would be provided the time he needed to be successful in the organization working on project teams.

But there will still be more to do…

In a one-on-one conversation with Susan, we talked about how the problem did not end with finding Jack help. There were still employees in the organization who adamantly refused to work with Jack, unless something was done to help them improve their relationship with Jack – their perception of Jack would not change. We talked about what to do.

We needed to give Jack time to change his behavior certainly. But we needed to help him to get back in touch with those team members who were, effectively, “anti-Jack.”

Susan had a meeting with many of the team members who were refusing to work with Jack any longer. Keeping in mind the sensitive nature of the situation, she told team members that Jack was working with a coach to improve how he worked with others and she would appreciate their support in helping Jack once he was assigned to another project team.

We also decided that once Jack had rejoined a project team, we would have a formal project team get-together (not a project kick-off meeting), but rather a meeting to enable for team building activities and for the team to get to know each other and Jack to begin to repair damaged relationships.

Jack’s thoughts…

Susan and Jack’s manager met with Jack to discuss the situation. They told him that they wanted to give him the opportunity to fit in better with the culture of the organization and learn how to work effectively in a team environment. They asked him if he wanted to try to work within the organization or if he preferred to be provided support to find a position outside the company. Jack wanted to stay, and he wanted help in improving the situation. They didn’t ask Jack what was the matter nor why he chose to behave as he did, and Jack offered no answers. Susan didn’t feel this was important; she was more concerned that he actually wanted to try to change.

Susan let him know that as a first step they would find a few coaches for him to meet with and to select one to work with. He would have 6 months from when he begins working with a coach to begin showing some progress toward improvement. If he could show progress, the company was willing to work with him to get him back in the fold of the organization. Additionally, Jack would be pulled from all projects and a contractor would be hired to take over his role on projects until Jack was ready to jump back in. Jack agreed and thanked them for the opportunity.

Your thoughts? What would you have done? Share with others in the Comments field below.

Stay tuned for an updated post on Jack’s progress.

Similar posts that may interest you include: A New Member on the Project Team and The 5 Stages of Team Development, Part I and Part II.

Comments are closed.