So much of project management is grounded in how well your team performs. Before budgets, Gantt charts, and risk analysis, project managers need to make sure that they have an efficient process.
And sometimes team members make that difficult.
Some project managers chalk their team member’s inefficiency up to some unalterable personality trait—the team member is lazy, or entitled, or is too bossy. But poor team management may also be at the heart of this issue.
How so, you might ask?
To start with, your team members may be mirroring your own behavior.
If you are an aggressive project manager, you are setting the tone for your entire office. Psychology Today notes, “Brain imaging has revealed that our brains actually experience what others experience. When someone smiles at us, we spontaneously smile. When someone screams in pain, we cringe.”
In other words, mirroring others’ behavior is a form of empathy, something that most people experience (even if we haven’t had our morning cup of coffee).
If you regularly have a negative attitude, berate your coworkers, or are simply slacking on the job, your team members are bound to notice. In an odd way, it’s a show of flattery that they’re mirroring you—but it’s bad for business. As a leader, you set the tone for your office—make sure that you’re checking your own behavior before criticizing that of others.
But sometimes the tone you’re setting isn’t the problem.
Sometimes it’s your expectations. Or lack thereof.
If your objectives aren’t clear, team members can come across as lazy. Psychology Today also reports that, “Procrastination is not just an issue of time management or laziness… Ambiguous directions and vague priorities increase procrastination. The boss who asserts that everything is high priority and due yesterday is more likely to be kept waiting.”
Sometimes having unclear goals is a reflection of the PM’s own lack of direction. One way to fix that internally is using project management software to help organize the project’s process. The collaboration and milestone tracking features found in programs like Mavenlink and Wrike allow project managers to detail specific goals along with timelines and expectations for their team members. And trust me—team members will be grateful. Not only will they be more responsive to your vision for the project direction, but they’ll also accomplish more in an expedient fashion.
After you’ve exhausted these options and you still have a no-good very-bad team member, it’s time to confront them head on.
If your team member is being rude to other team members, ignoring the clear deadlines you have set out for them, acting abrasive, or just aren’t syncing well with the rest of your team, it’s time to use your exemplary communication skills and put them to work.
Start by asking them if there’s anything going on in their personal lives. For all you know, they could be coping with a major loss—like divorce or a recent death—and their emotions are spilling over into the work place. Try to empathize with their situation if something is going on.
Next, offer to help them figure out their work problems. Do they need more support? Clearer expectations? Quicker notifications to get started on a project? Is there something that you’re doing that isn’t clicking with them? Even if it’s just assigning them new tasks, you can see a coworker’s behavior turn around by simply restructuring how they do their jobs.
Finally, take the time to build a personal-professional relationship with your coworker. Try one-on-one team-building exercises and try to help integrate him or her into the broader team community. Don’t talk about them behind their back—if you want your team mates to accept your difficult team member, you will have to be the role model.
And if that doesn’t work?
Okay, maybe it won’t be that dramatic, but it may be time to bring in human resources after you’ve exhausted all other mediation. Submit a formal complaint about the employee.
Hopefully, though, the abovementioned solutions will help you avoid bringing in HR altogether. Sometimes, it’s the smallest tweaks to how you run your office that can lead to the greatest changes of behavior.
How do you think project managers can deal with difficult team members? How have you dealt with them in the past? Did any of these strategies help? Leave your answers in the comments below!
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