Dealing with Problematic Team Members

Managing your team should be easy because you’re dealing with trained professionals, right?  But that's not to say there won’t be difficult personalities along the way.  Our project resources are skilled professionals…with egos.  Each has their own unique talents that they bring to the engagement.  Likewise they each come to the table with their own unique experiences, behaviors, attitudes, and beliefs about how things should be done.

Each team member presents a different challenge to the project manager.  I'm not saying you'll always have control issues with project team members on every project. Many projects can go off without a hitch in terms of project team members’ behaviors, compliance, and cooperation.  However, sooner or later you will encounter a situation where your authority is challenged or conflict arises with another project team member or a team member just isn't following through on the tasks assigned to them and they are not focusing well on the project as a whole. What you have is a control issue.  You're the project manager and you've now lost some degree of control over that resource or your project team in general.  That is definitely not a good thing and you must correct the situation quickly if you hope to maintain your reputation as a good project manager and leader in your organization.

In order to keep your project on track, you must take swift action.  There are three general steps to take, in order, to resolve the situation or remove the problem behavior: a one-on-one meeting with the problem team member, a meeting with that individual’s direct manager, and removal of the problem team member from the project, if necessary.  Let’s examine these three in more detail…

Meet with the resource

As an experienced leader, you must know that your first and best course of action is to go directly to the source of the issue – the project resource that is causing harm to the team and the project.  Discuss the situation with him, let him know – once again – who the project leader and primary decision-maker is, and layout what the next steps will if be if compliance does not begin immediately.  How firm or friendly you want to be during this ‘session’ will likely depend on a few things:  how desperate the situation is, how much longer you have to work together on the engagement, how destructive his behavior has become, and how he seems to be reacting to your corrective intervention.  Hopefully, this discussion will resolve the issue and set his behavior back on the right course.  If not…

Meet with the resource's supervisor

The next step, if the first doesn’t work, is to meet with his direct supervisor.  After all, this is the person directly responsible for hiring him, firing him, and evaluating his performance.  Let the supervisor know there is a problem on the project and that this resource is still not falling into compliance even after you’ve had a one-on-one discussion with him.  Let him make the next attempt at corrective action.

Have them removed from the project

Finally, if the situation has either gone to far that the individual can no longer be trusted on the project or if the first two steps fail to correct the situation, then the only option left is to remove the individual from the team.  Put in a request immediately for a skilled replacement, discuss the situation with the project customer if they are not already aware of the problem, and onboard the replacement resource as quickly as possible.  It’s critical that the transition be smooth in order to keep customer confidence and satisfaction as high as possible.

Summary

You hate to go to extremes. It can be disruptive the team, to the customer and to the forward progress of the project. However, it is far worse to lose control of your project and the team as a whole and that's where you'll be heading if you don't take swift corrective action.  You must show both your team and your customer that you can keep the project on track in order to maintain their confidence and cooperation.

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