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Topics: Ethics and Organizational Culture, Leadership, Talent Management
How do you handle a negatively disruptive/unethical team member who is also a star performer with a virtually irreplaceable and critical skill-set?
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Gerald is a star project performer, with a unique and very rare skill-set critical to your project. He comes up with brilliant ideas and is extremely productive.
A dream project contributor, right? Not entirely.
Gerald is terribly arrogant, publicly humiliates other team members, and constantly causes conflicts by spreading baseless rumours.
Worse, he was recently proven to claim credit for another team member's work, and in the past, pilfering.
As Project Manager and therefore leader, this seems to be a "lose-lose" situation:
a. Keep Gerald in the team, and team morale suffers, bringing down overall productivity.
b. Releasing him will create a situation where critical tasks will be delayed, therefore endangering the project.
Have you been in a similar situation? Is there a "win-win" way?
Please share your valuable views for the benefit of our PM community.
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Karthik -

I'm assuming 1:1 discussions have already been attempted to little avail so based on your description, Gerald's behavior is breaking policy, not just "good team behavior" rules. As such, this is an HR issue for his people manager. If there is no willingness from HR or his manager to do anything, I'd still ask for him to be removed. While there might be some impacts to the project, the impacts to the project team and associated stakeholders will persist far beyond the life of the project if you keep him around.

Kiron
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Karthik
Gerald can be redirected to work away from the team environment, his direct communication can be restricted to his manager only, minimize his direct contact with other team members. he can be considered as a virtual member
Aliaa
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1 reply by Karthik Ramamurthy
Jan 27, 2019 9:59 AM
Karthik Ramamurthy
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Hi Aliaa Elshaamy: Thanks a ton for your comment.
Having Gerald work alone certainly sounds like a "win-win" option.
However, it may not be entirely possible to have him work totally in seclusion.
Tolerating unethical behavior could set a bad precedent.
It needs to be made crystal clear to him that even the most minimal of unprofessional conduct or unethical behavior will result in his immediate removal from the project.
Network:1657



Karthik, thank you for an extremely relevant scenario. I believe, while project is important, its culture and team ethics are equally important. this is also keeping in mind the macro picture of the overall organization. I do believe, that the project has a sufficient back up is not holed up if Gerald was to exit. That level of risk management is mandatory for any project and should have been baked in the project plan.

As for Gerald's behavior, I think it is unacceptable.The negative influence on the team will percolate beyond the life of the project. I am of an opinion that with the right HR intervention, Gerald needs to be released.

Thanks
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@Kiron Bondale and @Deepa Bhide: Thanks a million for your very perceptive comments!
Removing Gerald from the project could indeed cause some collateral damage.
However, it is obvious that Gerald is continuing with his disruptive ways despite one-on-one intervention.
His continuance among the other team members will cause much more long-term damage.
Tolerating unprofessional conduct and unethical behavior may promote similar conduct from others.
The Project Manager has no choice but to bite the bullet and take steps to have Gerald removed from the project.
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1 reply by Deepa Bhide
Jan 27, 2019 10:04 AM
Deepa Bhide
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Thanks!
Network:2263



Short-sightedness will become the ultimate downfall. Toxic behavior should not be tolerated, nor catered to. I saw first hand it completely destroy an entire team. It was ugly.

It is also not an unlikely scenario that the client would ask for this a person of this particular nature to be removed from the project.

In professional sports, what happens with that 'star' player when the team is disrupted by their behavior and attitude?

There is a similar thread which is discussing a scenario such as this:
https://www.projectmanagement.com/discussi...ember-Is-A-Risk
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1 reply by Karthik Ramamurthy
Jan 29, 2019 12:07 PM
Karthik Ramamurthy
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@Andrew Craig: Thanks a ton for your very insightful comments, and for sharing a similar experience in a past project.
I too have seen how some Project Managers short-sightedly let toxic behavior continue with the excuse that letting a star performer go would damage the project.
As the old adage advises, "A stitch in time saves nine."
Nipping a problem in the bud maybe painful in the short run, but save much more damage in the future.
Thanks too for pointing out the other thread on a similar situation.
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Jan 27, 2019 7:48 AM
Replying to Aliaa Elshamy
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Karthik
Gerald can be redirected to work away from the team environment, his direct communication can be restricted to his manager only, minimize his direct contact with other team members. he can be considered as a virtual member
Aliaa
Hi Aliaa Elshaamy: Thanks a ton for your comment.
Having Gerald work alone certainly sounds like a "win-win" option.
However, it may not be entirely possible to have him work totally in seclusion.
Tolerating unethical behavior could set a bad precedent.
It needs to be made crystal clear to him that even the most minimal of unprofessional conduct or unethical behavior will result in his immediate removal from the project.
Network:1657



Jan 27, 2019 9:21 AM
Replying to Karthik Ramamurthy
...
@Kiron Bondale and @Deepa Bhide: Thanks a million for your very perceptive comments!
Removing Gerald from the project could indeed cause some collateral damage.
However, it is obvious that Gerald is continuing with his disruptive ways despite one-on-one intervention.
His continuance among the other team members will cause much more long-term damage.
Tolerating unprofessional conduct and unethical behavior may promote similar conduct from others.
The Project Manager has no choice but to bite the bullet and take steps to have Gerald removed from the project.
Thanks!
Network:13


Some time a person with a great skill and innovative ideas becomes tough to others but such people are assets to company also. therefore, he may be counseled by authority at appropriate level trying to know if he has any grievance. Removing him from project must be taken as last action.
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1 reply by Karthik Ramamurthy
Jan 29, 2019 12:11 PM
Karthik Ramamurthy
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@Ravi Vishvakarma: Thanks for your perspective on this situation.
I agree that good talent is hard to find, and letting them go should be a last resort.
However, as the situation and a few other discussion participants have pointed out, it looks like Gerald has continued to be rude to colleagues despite prior intervention.
Worse, he has also indulged in unethical behavior.
At this situation, with all other options having been exhausted, there seems to be nothing else to do but to let Gerald go!
Network:850



skills versatility and cross training
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1 reply by Karthik Ramamurthy
Jan 29, 2019 12:13 PM
Karthik Ramamurthy
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@Sromon Das: Thanks a million for contributing to this discussion.
While I agree that soft skills training may help, it looks like Gerald has gone beyond these steps and continues with toxic and unethical behavior.
Network:69



Happened with me, the guy was not a star performer but was irreplacable at that time. Also, he was elder to me by few years and thus hard for me to handle. I tried to enforce rules and superiority on him but failed. Later, i thought a lot about it decided that i should first win his trust by being a genuine friend to him. Once he started trusting me as a friend, he started supporting me as per my expectation. I also ensured that he had a memorable fairwell when he left which left a lasting impression on him and other teams around us. Eitger you win by heart or by mind. He was very clever so i decided to win his heart.
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1 reply by Karthik Ramamurthy
Jan 29, 2019 12:16 PM
Karthik Ramamurthy
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@Deepak Setia: Thanks a ton for sharing your experience from a real project. It certainly adds a lot of value to this discussion!
Your approach of investing time and effort in dealing with a troublesome senior demonstrates your excellent people skills which brought you a true win-win result!
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