Have you ever led a team that just didn’t want to be led? You know the situation… you inherited a team that has several problem children on it and not everyone will follow your lead. Getting things done is difficult, and getting them to give you status updates is just as hard. If you’re lucky, they’re at least competent, but in a worst case scenario you have, 1) Individuals on the team who think they know what they’re doing, but don’t, 2) Lack of cooperation amongst team members and 3) an unwillingness to follow you. So… what do you do?
If you find yourself in this situation, take comfort in that you’re not alone. I’ve been there… more than once AND I was able to be successful in spite of it. The obvious solution is to replace the team members that are not willing to play nicely in the sandbox. As a leader, if you have this option, consider it a luxury as many organizations won’t let poor performers go.
Sometimes being a leader means being unpopular. You’re going to have to get some thick skin and work with HR to document the poor performance and get those members off your team, and/or out of the organization. As I mentioned earlier, this rarely happens. I believe it is because many leaders won’t do the hard to work to make it happen, and believe me, it is hard work.
Do the hard work and get the poor performers off your team.
Assuming you don’t have time to get your team in proper shape, or that your organization, despite your best efforts, won’t let the poor performers go, what else can you do? Based on my experience you’re going to have to follow the advice of Sun Tzu. This may seem counter intuitive to some of you, but as an Eastern way of thinking, sometimes you have to take the indirect route to get things done. A frontal assault is not always the best option. Translation?
Don’t waste time by attacking the poor performers. Get things done by either working around them, or motivating them by pushing their buttons, instead of them pushing yours.
So, what does this look like? I had a problem getting status reports on a project once. It was critical that I knew what was going on in the field, yet a team member (I use that term loosely) would conveniently forget to call me. So what did I do? Instead of arguing with the team member, I just called into the field myself. I got first hand knowledge of the situation that was often more current than the team member’s. I enjoyed watching his smirk turn into a frown as I gave a thorough update to the staff, or after he gave the update, I would add something that he didn’t know. He soon began to realize that his behavior was not going to stop me from being successful. The bottom line to being successful in this situation…
Do whatever it takes to get the job or the project done
On other occasions, where a team member did not do the work in a timely manner, I just reassigned the work, or I did it myself. I know this was not the best thing to do. But, it got the job done and I was able to control the outcome of the project, even though a team member was a hurdle. Now, there are two problems with this method. 1) It puts extra stress on other team members and yourself, and, 2) The misbehaving team member doesn’t have to step up to the plate. If you are going to do this, you need to be working on letting the poor performer go, or your team (or your family because of you bringing work home) will begin to resent you. Use this option as a way to get things done, but not as an excuse for not letting the poor performer go.
All the best!
All the time!