Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Teams: Dealing with People Problems

You ever hear the phrase, "20 percent of the people take up 80 percent of your time?" It is what I call the 20-80 rule. Personnel problems are inevitable on teams. I mean, people are people and we are at all different stages of maturity and have life experiences which sometimes mean we see, think, and/or act differently from the normally established standards.

It is critical that leaders be adept at dealing with people one-on-one, especially in potential conflict or uncomfortable situations. One person, consistently acting inappropriately can destroy the fabric of a team. They can reduce productivity, destroy morale, and sabotage the working relationship between the leader and the team.

What is a leader to do when confronted with a troubling personnel situation?

First, don't get so wrapped up in the personnel problem that your relationship with the other members of the team suffers. Continue to nurture, support, and relate to everyone else. They need to continue to see the leader and to have the open communication that hopefully have been established. They also need confidence that the leader is actively working to enforce the team standards in the renegade.

Second, work one-on-one directly with the problem and the person with it. Nothing in the world is more demoralizing for a team than to have a leader send a blanket email out stating some policy intended to solve a problem that only one person has. Usually the person with the problem doesn't know it's meant for them (so they ignore it) and everyone else is insulted that the leader isn't dealing directly and personally with the issue.

This is a time for the leader to be hands-on. Sit together with the person involved and get to the bottom of the issue. There are established standards being violated--they can be written or understood. But there are standards. Leaders also need compassion. I believe it is important to assume "noble intent" on the first or second meeting. Some people just don't see how what they are doing is divisive or contrary to the team standards.

Dealing directly with people is important for leaders. It shows the team that you are engaged and willing to take care of the tough stuff personally. It demonstrates that you have a good knowledge of the team dynamics and reinforces to the team that you care about each one of them and know what their contributions are.

Hiding behind blanket emails sent to everyone about every transgression is a sign of weakness and insecurity. It sends a message to the team that you are unwilling to engage and you don't understand the dynamics on the team.

Leaders do not need to talk about the problems they are working with the team members. If leaders are in touch with the informal communications system,. they will know that the team is aware of the problems and how the leader is working them. People appreciate modesty and humility. The scary part is that everyone sees the problem. Everyone expects the leader to act. That is the best place to be in because as the leader acts, it reinforces the team standards and assures the team members that the leader cares about the team as a whole.
Leaders must act when confronted with people problems. And they must act personally and directly with the problem. That is the key to success is restoring team morale and harmony.

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