Team Leaders' Resource Library

***For Karl McCracken's personal (mainly triathlon) blog, please visit http://karlmccracken.wordpress.com/ This blog is an alternative way for you to get access to our TeamTips series of articles. TeamTips is a short, fortnightly article that's aimed at TeamLeaders. Each edition covers a subject that's important for Team Leaders' performance - both in technical issues and man-management.

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Thursday, July 20, 2006

Dealing with Mr Awkward


Why Its Important


For many, Team Leadership is the first step on the management ladder. Having people who work for you is a big responsibility. You need to get them performing to show your boss that you can deliver results. And at the same time, your team’ll expect you to take care of them, not to work them too hard, and to deal with all the ‘baggage’ they bring to work from whatever’s going on at home.

This is a tough job - you’re ‘piggy in the middle’ all the time you’re at work. And sooner or later you’ll get a team member who seems to do everything they can to make it harder. We all have bad days at work, where we just want to kick against the system, but this is something more.

You’ve got a team member, who’s a self-appointed member of the Awkward Squad! Examples of the kind of behaviour you might see include:
  • Frequent arguments with other members of your team, other teams, or managers
  • Inconsistent work - big variations in work rate and quality, with no apparent reason.
  • Lack of cooperation, when you need something extra - things like overtime, travelling to fix a problem with a customer, or working with other people.
  • Aggressively defensive when confronted about problems. They’ll come out fighting, blaming others, making unreasonable accusations that you’re just out to get them. Basically, whatever has happened will never be their fault!

All of this is very stressful - for you, and everyone who comes into contact with Mr Awkward. (Could also be Ms Awkward - this isn’t just a man thing.)

You probably don’t get paid enough to just put up with this, so your job as Team Leader is to try and fix the situation, so that everyone can get on with their jobs!

Seven Tips

1. Stick to The Facts

Mr Awkward probably isn’t behaving rationally, and it’s easy to get pulled into this yourself. So in conversations try to stay detached from any emotion. Stick to the facts, and to help with this, keep brief notes in your day book on what you say. You DO have a day book, don’t you?

2. Be Interested
Is there something behind Mr Awkward’s attitude and behaviour? Problems at home? Being bullied at work? Money problems? Take an interest - ask if there’s anything wrong / can you help / can the company help.

3. Confront 'Bad' Behaviour
‘Awkwardness’ sometimes stems from poor self-esteem. But you can’t be walking on eggshells around this. When Mr Awkward does something ‘bad’, speak to them immediately afterwards about their behaviour. You must criticise the behaviour, and not the person.

4. Get Them To Empathise
Tell Mr Awkward the consequences of his behaviour for the people around him. e.g. “When you argue like that, we feel . . . “; “When you won’t do overtime, we all have to work longer hours to make up for it”.

5. Take Time To Be Positive
Mr Awkward’s behaviour probably means that you don’t really want to talk to him, and only do so when you have to. So he only ever sees you when he’s done something wrong! You need to break this cycle, and go out of your way to find positive reasons to talk to him.

6. Be Constant and Consistent
Take time to talk to Mr Awkward several times a day. If he’s doing a good job, tell him, and if performance is sliding, ask if he needs help.

7. The FINAL Resort.
Sometimes, Mr Awkward just doesn’t want to change, or won’t face up to the need to change. Your absolute last resort is the official Disciplinary procedures. Before making any moves in this direction, discuss it with your manager and the company’s HR department.

What Next?

This edition of TeamTips is concerned with the people-management side of Team Leadership. There are three things you can do if you’re interested in finding out more about this:

1. Read a Book
We recommend “Don’t Sweat The Small Stuff At Work”, by Richard Carlson. It’s a book of a hundred easy-reading mini chapters on how to create a positive outlook towards work. It’s available from the Sevenrings book shop at www.sevenrings.co.uk/bookstoreandlinks.asp.- just click on the Amazon.co.uk logo to order.

2. Read Our In-Depth Management Briefing Paper on team management.
We publish a series of more detailed papers - just visit www.sevenrings.co.uk and click on the ‘free stuff’ button. You can also find out more about the legal issues surrounding Disciplinary action by reading this free article by Hay & Kilner.

3. Call Sevenrings
We’ve helped dozens of individuals and organisations improve their teams’ performance, and we’d be happy to talk to you about your particular situation at no initial charge.

We specialise in helping people to get better results by changing the way they work. We can provide training from 1/2 day taster sessions focusing on just one aspect of the Team leader’s role, up to comprehensive programmes over several months.

Our phone number is 0191 2522 335, or you can email karlATsevenringsDOTcoDOTuk.
Finally . . . this article on awkward staff is available as a pdf, and you can download the podcast companion to it after 25th July.

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