big-adam-bomb-stickerYou’re now a team lead and setting targets and removing obstacles for the team to be as productive as possible. However you have one team member who is causing a rift with some bad behaviour that is negatively impacting the team’s morale and output. How do you resolve this when you’re not this person’s manager and don’t have the positional power that comes with being the person who approves their pay?

Identify the real problems

When some members of your team are complaining about one team member, you need to look past the emotional side of it and determine whether there are real problems being caused by the bad behaviour. Here are some behaviours you might look for and the problems they cause.

  • A lack of visibility created by this person not telling others what they are working on. This can lead to wasted effort if this person is going down the wrong path, or spending too much time on something that is a low priority.
  • Lack of collaboration. This can lead to deliverables that need to be re-worked when they don’t integrate with the deliverables being produced by the rest of the team. The re-work could be adding significant extra effort and introduce inefficiencies in the team’s ability to get through the work.
  • Not sharing information. This can lead to other team members engaging the same people, asking the same questions again, or not designing the optimal solution as a result of not having the information that the problem team member is not sharing.
  • Not accepting feedback. This can lead to quality of deliverables this person is producing not being at the same standard as rest of the team; adding extra effort for other team members to bring these deliverables up to the same standard, or risk re-work further down the line.

Try to resolve the problems

If the problem is just a personality clash there’s not much you can do other than ensuring the two people are working on separate parts of the project and they don’t need to depend on each other.

However if you have identified some real problems and impacts they are causing to your project, you need to try to resolve them.

  • To resolve a lack of visibility you may try using the concept of stand-ups and a scrum board from the Agile methodology. Having each team member talk about what they’re working on and representing these on a scrum board will increase visibility of what is being worked on.
  • If the problem is a lack of collaboration you can try using your planning meetings to get the team members to establish the integration points between their deliverables and agree on how they’ll touch base regularly to ensure alignment.
  • When a team member is not sharing the information they acquire, you can try to establish a culture of summarising meeting outcomes or presenting back to the team after having meetings with outside stakeholders.
  • If a team member is not accepting feedback on their deliverables, this can be quite tricky to rectify without having the positional power of being their manager. You can try giving the feedback again at a different time, and try giving it as a suggestion to make a deliverable even better, rather than as a criticism.

Don’t try to pick up the slack and do the work yourself. If necessary, allow the problem team member to learn a lesson by attempting to present an incomplete deliverable to a downstream team, but don’t completely let go. If it turns into a disaster, your manager will not be impressed and will be asking what you are doing as the team lead.

If after your attempts to resolve the problems you’re still not having any success, you’ll need to take the next step.

Escalating to your manager

When your own attempts at changing the problem team member’s behaviour have failed, you can no longer wait. You need to escalate the issue to your manager. Failure to do this will worsen the problem and you’ll lose the respect of your good team members.

This is a delicate situation. When talking to your manager you want to make them aware of the impact on the team’s output, not sound like you are just going to them to complain. A long list of criticisms about the person’s work will be ignored by your manager and just make you look immature. It will sound like you can’t let go of the emotional side of the situation.

The way you articulate a problem with a person’s behaviour needs to cut out the emotional side and any personality issues. Before you go to report the problem to your manager, gather specific and recent examples. For each example you need to know:

  1. The behaviour or action of the person
  2. The impact to the team or your project
  3. What you’ve done to try to resolve the issue

Memorise these examples. Then spend 20mins gathering your thoughts so you can tell your manager:

  1. There is a problem.
  2. You’ve had complaints within the team and from people outside the team.
  3. You’ve tried to resolve the problem but have had no success.
  4. Now you can’t let it go any further and have to escalate the problem.

Your manager needs facts about impacts to the project; they can’t do anything with personal complaints. Articulate the problem in a way that gives them something they can work with to deal with the problem team member.

You may be tempted to just pick up the slack yourself and put in extra effort to ensure the team still meets its targets. However this won’t work when you’re managing a large team and numerous team members are not performing. You can’t pick up the slack for all of them. So you’ll need to be able to deal with the problem of bad behaviour from a team member, and help them learn the right lessons.

How have you handled these delicate situations effectively?

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