Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Leading A Horse To Water

It always amazes me how people, when presented with a road that will lead them to success and given all the tools to get there, swear they want success, thank you profusely for showing them the road and then promptly turn around and take a dirt road down a mine shaft.

The key to any business' success is to have all members of the team working toward the same goal; so how do you deal with someone who just doesn't care or seems to be working at cross purposes?  Such is the case on some teams and it can be very frustrating for the leader, as well as for the rest of the team.

Unfortunately, in most businesses, you don't have the option of simply firing the person or putting them on another team.  You have to find a way of working with the person, getting them back on the winning side and ultimately, making them a productive member of a successful team.  Those who are counterproductive can take several disguises, all of which can damage whatever teamwork you've built up, if you're not careful.

The Bully:

Back in grade school, the person with the worst attitude was often a bully; is that the case on your team?  Dealing with a counterproductive bully can be physically wearing but it can be done.  As leader, it's up to you to neutralize the bully by giving them a small release valve from which to release some of their pent up hostility, carefully-controlled, of course.  Allow them some say in the planning process; that's not to say you have to accept all their ideas, but it'll at least help them feel heard.  Acknowledge their input, perhaps find a way to accept one or two of their ideas, and then move on.

There.  The bully is now no longer a factor.  You've shown who the leader of the team is and that you're not afraid of the bully and, in most cases, the bully can be melded into the rest of the team.

The Ninja:

The Ninja is a tricky one - she's the team member who smiles at you, acts like she's 100% behind the process, and then goes back behind, sowing little doubts.  "Are you sure what the boss said sounds right?"  "I don't know.  I thought I heard Johnson say he had a better idea."  She doesn't say anything outright, but gets in little snips and snigglets of doubt.  If she's not shut down and dealt with, before long, your team morale is gone and your position as team leader has gone down the tubes.

The quickest way to get under a Ninja and root her out is to bring her out into the light by keeping the lines of communication open to all team members.  Encourage your team to come to you with there are questions.  If you see a bunch huddling around the Ninja, jump in and ask, "How's everything going with the project?  I thought I heard some questions."  Keep all your conversations with the Ninja in public, so there can be no, "Well, the boss told me this behind closed doors;" that way, there are no closed-door conversations that only the Ninja is in on.

If you find the Ninja carrying her bag of tricks around, make sure to call her on it, albeit in a subtle form.  "What's your question, Jane?  No, that's not what I said at all."

The Jerk:

Some counterproductive team members are just jerks -  let's be plain about it.  They want your job, they want the team to go down because they aren't the boss, they're just altogether disagreeable and they don't care who knows it.  There's no sneak in this guy's disdain.  And because he's so blatant, it's hard to ignore him or diffuse him.  So how do you deal with him?

There are several ways.  First, and you've probably already tried this - include him in the planning process.  He's going to humph and grumph his way through every meeting, but at least you have him close to you and it's better to keep your enemies close, right?

Secondly, everyone already knows he's a jerk; he's not good at hiding it.  Work around him.  Let him stand in the middle of the room while everyone around him is working happily together on the project.  Sooner or later, he's either going to jump in and help one of the groups or he's going to just shut up - either way, he's neutralized or he'll just go away.

Does this mean there are no other ways of dealing with disgruntled employees?  No - obviously, there are as many ways of dealing with dissatisfied employees as there are dissatisfied employees.  What I wanted to do, though, is show that, no matter how fantastic a leader you are, you can only do so much with a bad employee and, whether you like it or not, you're going to have to find a way of dealing with them because they rarely just go away.

Why not try to deal with these employees positively?  If you give them no ammunition to play with, at the very least, you'll take away their fun and they'll get frustrated.  At the best, they'll figure out they're the only ones not playing and want to get into the game, one way or the other.