How to Approach a Dysfunctional Team Member

Working on a team can be a challenging experience. In a sometimes cramped office space, you and your coworkers chug away at tasks and work together on many things to complete larger projects or improve efficiency. What happens when you discover that one coworker who has the potential to bring all your collaboration and productivity to a halt? Whether their personality clashes with others on the team, they feel the need to be in charge, or they believe their ideas to be superior to others’, what is the best way to diffuse them before their attitude threatens the morale and productivity of the team?

When this is a colleague, the waters surrounding the issue can be dangerous. You don’t want to overstep your boundaries, create an uncomfortable workplace or unnecessarily involve others to create office gossip. Here are a few tips for handling the situation with finesse and professionalism:

  1. Develop a relationship outside of the group: Without other team members present, do you see the same characteristics that are weighing the group down? Outside of a group, they may perform differently. Take the time to create a report with your coworker outside of the group setting and see if you can create a friendly, professional basis for open communication. This may grant you an opportune time to gently reaffirm that kind of teamwork that is needed in order for your group to succeed. This will probably also make the situation easier if you find that you need to approach them in a more serious manner later.
  2. Take a few minutes to try and understand your colleague. If they are being hostile in the group setting, sometimes this can be deflated when someone simply seeks to understand where a team member or coworker might feel challenged or where they might need help. If you can be helpful, do so.
  3. Be honest about the ways in which their performance is affecting the team. An article from the Houston Chronicle suggests that using the phrase “this is how your performance affects me,” is a gentler way to begin a conversation that could be uncomfortable or create a hostile coworker. Be careful not to speak too specifically about your group members. Focus on the effects to your own performance and the productivity of the group, but don’t pretend to speak for your other coworkers personally.
  4. Be honest when their problem becomes something that you cannot solve. Especially with a coworker over whom you have no superiority, all you can do is approach them with honest feedback and ask that they refocus themselves for the benefit of the group. If the issue is not fixed, escalate the issue to someone with more authority.

There are few easy solutions to weeding out and calling out that one coworker whose attitude or work methods might be pulling the team downward. However, it is no benefit to anyone to let their poor attitude fester and infect others or to allow their performance to hamper the productivity of the whole group.

Have you ever approached a dysfunctional team member? What was the outcome? Share  your story in the comments!

IMAGE: Courtesy of Flickr by Koshyk