Got a Problem Team Member? Focusing on the positive can help…

We have all encountered the “problem team member.” This is the person that interrupts the meeting with questions and opinions and has a combative attitude. It appears that they really want to argue and bulldoze under anyone with a different opinion. It takes time and energy to listen to them and it can be very deflating for a team. This person actually prevents progress. What can you do to make him or her a better team player?

  1. Agree with them when you can. “That is an excellent point, we can certainly bring it to the group’s attention at our next meeting.” Something like this will stop the person from prolonged rhetoric to make their case.
  2. Have a very strong facilitator or leader. The problem team member may want to high jack the discussion and just continue to rant and rave about their opinion. The meeting leader needs to intervene, summarize and move on: “Excuse me, Julian, as I understand your issue, you want to change the rules of our certification process because of safety reasons. The person who can institute those changes is not present today, so let’s put that on a list of items for him to consider at our next meeting. Thank you for making an excellent point.” IF the person will not be silenced, (“please don’t interrupt and let me finish…”), the team leader should say, “I’m sorry, but please be brief with you comments. I’ll give you 30 seconds to wrap this up.”
  3. Coaching. A good team leader needs to step up and coach a “problem team member” if you are really going to improve the situation in the long run. Rather than just doing nothing and waiting for attrition to remove the person, coaching will be valuable for the leader as well as for the team member. It makes both people stronger team members. It is a one-on-one conversation that can happen in as little as 15 minutes—or longer if you want to put a person at ease and take him or her to lunch and discuss it (which is often very effective for a number of reasons). Here is a brief example of how to start: “You know, Lynn, I have been meaning to talk to you about some of the ideas and issues that you bring up during our meetings. You make some really good points; thanks for your contributions. I have noticed, though, that the other members seem to be shutting your ideas out before truly giving them much thought. And- I believe you could be much more effective and persuasive if you just tweak a few things. For example, try a softer, friendlier tone and assume that people are “with” you. We all want the same things and want to work together effectively. Someone that mentored me told me something really powerful—think about what outcome you are trying to achieve first, then consider how to communicate your ideas so that people come to agree with you. An argumentative or overly authoritative tone does anything but get people to listen. I’ve seen you present things in a much more positive and engaging way, so I’m just telling you to that if you use that skill a bit more, you’ll notice the members being a lot more receptive to your ideas….etc., etc.”

You can see that the ideas listed here are all couched in very positive terms. Telling a team member how negative and ineffective they are does nothing to encourage them to change. Focus on what they can do (even if they aren’t that good at it). Positive psychic income goes a long way toward changing one’s behavior.