One Bad Apple

[article]
Summary:

Never underestimate the divisive power one person can have on an entire team. One team member with a bad attitude can affect overall productivity, communication, and job satisfaction. This week, Lori Howard offers some direct, decisive solutions for handling these "de-jellers" before they ruin your otherwise cohesive team.

Recently, I was discussing with a colleague the challenges of managing a team that just couldn't get along. "Two months ago, my team was like that," Josh said. "The team was always divided. Complaints were rampant, people arrived late and left early, they didn't communicate well with each other, and they either fought over every project decision or didn't talk at all. People weren't getting as much done as I thought they should, or even could." Josh grimaced, "I felt more like a parent than a manager, spending all my time smoothing ruffled feathers and trying to keep things moving along."

This sounded like a team comprised of difficult employees. But the more we talked, the more it became clear that his team was being held hostage. The behavior of one team member was affecting the entire team - not just their attitude, but their productivity as well. One rotten apple was spoiling the whole team dynamic.
I call these "bad apples" de-jellers, and they are notoriously difficult to work with. They don't carry their own load, yet complain about how overworked they are. In fact, de-jellers tend to complain to everyone about everything: the company, management, people, processes, and workload.

Never underestimate the impact of one person on an entire team. One person with a problem attitude or divisive nature can stifle communications, make people tense, and ruin the productivity of everyone around him. One de-jeller can make teammates unhappy by his mere presence in a room. He can keep people from working together and make others feel like they are always choosing sides. The team is reduced to a collection of individuals and ceases to function as a powerful entity. The things we want from a team: synergy, support, mentoring, coaching, and learning- can all be negatively affected by a single person. When a de-jeller is present, the team is divided. Communication is disrupted because the de-jeller is always intruding. Worst of all, productivity for the whole team drops.

If you have a de-jeller on your team, don't be held hostage.

Don't Ignore the Problem and Hope it Will Go Away
Problems like this one never go away on their own. Address the problem directly and honestly, allow the person who is de-jelling the team to own her problem and her solution. Josh originally tried to hide the employee on less important, less difficult projects. He put his de-jeller on teams with people who appeared to put up with her. But that didn't work. The problem was still there, ready to reappear at the first opportunity. Don't bury the problem by isolating the de-jeller. Don't keep remixing the teams to make it work. The products will suffer. The work will suffer. Everyone will suffer!

Don't Try To Save the De-jeller
You are a manager, and it's not your job to save people. Clearly tell the de-jeller the behavior you observe, and allow him to solve the problem or to seek help. Don't accommodate him. Josh didn't ask his de-jeller if she wanted to be saved, Josh assumed she did. Only when Josh asked her to solve the problem did things change.

Do Address the Problem Honestly and Directly
This is your responsibility as manager; not addressing problems directly only perpetuates them. Communicate clearly to the employee what you observe about his behavior and his ability to do his job. But remember, this is where a manager's responsibility ends. Say, "I am observing these things in your behavior/performance - they need to change. How do you want to handle it?" Place the responsibility in the hands of the de-jeller.

About the author

Lori Howard's picture Lori Howard

Lori Howard has 15 years of experience in software development and management. She led a QA department, worked with software teams to implement process changes, and managed projects for a consulting and research firm that produces investment planning software. She currently works as a life and career coach. You can reach Lori by emailing lori@coachforabetterlife.com.

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