We’ve all been there. There’s someone on the team or on the project that’s juuuuust not quite cutting it. And wouldn’t it be great if we could all work under the Zappo’s employement philosophy: Hire slowly, Fire quickly.
But how often do you have complete control over everyone working on your projects? You’ve likely got a mix of people: some may work for you directly, others support your project part time, and others who are “on loan” from another organization/business unit/agency support your project. In my experience, matrixed teams are a way of life and definitely here to stay on projects and programs. (Sometimes I feel like I’m watching a Laurel and Hardy Abbot and Costello “Who’s on First” routine paired with a game of musical chairs. Welcome to my world 🙂
So you’ve got team members who don’t work for you who may not be performing in the way you expect. What options do you have? Here’s a few to consider:
1. Check your Relationship strategy: What do you know about that person? Have you built a working relationships with them? What are they into? Do you know the names of their kids? Are they passionate about something in particular? This may seem like extraneous information, but sometimes, just asking people to talk about something they care about created an informal relationship that supports the work relationship. You don’t need to become best friends, or even Facebook friends – Just show that you care about the individual as an individual. People are more likely to use a bit of idle time doing something for someone they know and cares about them than someone who rarely talks to them other than in the form of assigning tasks. A 15 minute investment of your time can pay off in the long run.
2. Check their workload: Is there something else they’re working on that’s affecting their ability to dedicate the needed time to your project or task? Perhaps they’re getting different instruction from their direct manager that’s influencing their ability to spend time completing your tasks. Perhaps a higher priority project has overtaken their time and the “other” manager hasn’t communicated with you about it. In short, make sure you have an understanding what else the individual is working on.
3. Have the talk: After you’ve done your homework, make sure you talk TO the individual (not ABOUT them to others!) and express specifically what elements of performance aren’t meeting expectations. Showing up late for meetings? Not making sufficient progress on tasks? Not meeting deadlines? Have the uncomfortable talk. It’s important. Keep it to one or two matters. I usually use an approach that goes something like this ” Hey (name) I’d like to talk with you about how I can help you be really successful with these tasks…”
Use their name – because, as they say in sales, nothing is sweeter to a person that the sound of their own name 🙂
4. Listen to what they have to say: The “talk” should be a two way conversation, not a monologue. Ask the individual how they think things are going, and if they think that their activity means productivity. Reality is based on perception, so some folks may think they’re doing exactly what they need to! And most employees, even if they don’t work for you, want to do a good job. Also, be prepared to listen to things that may be outside the workplace that are affecting performance. Maybe there’s something going on that makes performance seem inconsequential, like a major life change, or significant health matters.
5. Ask what you can do to help them be more successful: Have the individual define their “improvement” plan, if you will. Some may need a task manager approach – breaking down their portions into individual tasks to complete. Others will need support and may ask for “feedback” throughout tasks like, “Is this ok?” or “what are your thoughts on this approach?”. Sometimes, they need a coach – a person who will help them develop a skill they didn’t know they had, and will build them up when they fall down despite their best efforts. Transactional leadership involves becoming what that individual or that team needs at a given point in time. Don’t be afraid to change your approach based on feedback your team member has given. Just because their request wouldn’t make you more responsive doesn’t mean they won’t respond positively to the change.
A lesson I learned the hard way is the way I’d approach completing a task on time, on target, on budget, isn’t necessarily the same approach someone else would take to arrive at the same end state. What I thought was an inability to prioritize and complete tasks was really my own inability to see that my approach was being interpreted as overwhelming, micromanaging, and making the individual feel they didn’t know how to do their job. I listened and backed off, and saw improvement in the work product as well as the individual’s engagement with the project. And that trend continued.
Many of you reading this have been in this same predicament too. What else would you include on this list? How have you worked to get “dysfunctional” team members “functional” again? Did it work? Would you do anything differently next time?