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Topics: Leadership, Resource Management, Talent Management
Greatest conversion with a toxic team member?
Network:747



Hi All,

Would you have had situations with toxic team members (e.g., unnecessarily aggressive, actively rebellious, constantly making conflicts personal) where you have turned the member around to a productive member of the team?

What are some approaches that can be explored to achieve that?

I have, for example, in the past let them have the easy victories in inconsequential areas and have swallowed my pride constantly - but have not had universal success with this strategy. In some cases it just seems to enhance the toxicity to the level where the team member has to be replaced (with a minor cost to the projects in question - since the team members were *eminently (edit: not "imminently") qualified in the work they were handling).

Would love to hear any advice on this. Thanks!

(To clarify: I am seeking collective experience with scenarios specifically where such team members have been converted to productive members, please. I am not seeking experiences that end with 'petty revenge' or having the team member escorted through the doors.)
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Network:12770



Hi Karan,

In one of my previous projects we had a disruptive team member who often would ridicule others, and make them feel worthless from time to time. This person was great at their job, and had both technical and project skills unmatched by most people in the company. Nonetheless their people skills left a lot to be desired. Incidentally they were full-time, whereas most of the project team were contractors, including myself. As the project progressed, it became clear that we would have issues with this person and occasional roadblocks.

Following numerous attempts to talk with this individual and suggest an alternative way of behaving, the team had enough. Instead of reporting them to senior management (one being an advocate for this person which would not have gone down well), the team mutually decided to totally ignore this person, in conversations and requests. Within 1 week the lackluster status reports submitted by this person were coming to the attention of management and there were rumors that this person could not handle the job.

An amazing thing happened. The person approached us to resolve the issue, and we all agreed to re-iterate the ground rules that were already established, but also offered to help the person in one area that was the main cause of their behavior which I won't mention here.
...
2 replies by Eric Simms and Karan Shah
Feb 02, 2018 12:17 AM
Karan Shah
...
Thanks, Sante. It's a very interesting experience. If the person is smart enough to try and work with the team, then I guess the minor hit to the project schedule was worth it -- and, in fact, with the entire team pulling in one direction I bet the team would have even made up that missed week in the end.

Will keep this in mind for future scenarios. Thank you.
Feb 02, 2018 5:24 AM
Eric Simms
...
I'm amazed how quickly and well that approach worked, Sante. I don't think it would be effective in my current environment, but I'll definitely keep it in mind for the future.
Network:271



Need to understand why someone is behaving that way , is this happening always or some time ? It might happen he/she might be going through hard times , if so need to help them

If it is always then they need to learn lesson on hard way ...

Observe person and situation make good judgement ..talk to them explain them

One thing people have to understand how much ever one is skilled or competent if there is an attitude issue they will be not tolerated for long can be replaced. Make them understand this

If nothing works build backup .. get them out

Arrogance and aggressive could be due to over confidence....or inferiority complex

Time teaches everything
...
1 reply by Karan Shah
Feb 02, 2018 12:22 AM
Karan Shah
...
Thanks, Raj. You've put your finger on the problem when you mentioned the attitude.

I personally do not think this was temporary - our project teams have competent resources in high-skill areas and there definitely is an aura of "I know best and I will not adapt to the needs of the project".

Toleration of the attitude, by itself, is sometimes is not a choice. Especially at times when internal stakeholders are (as Sante has so beautifully put it in the first response) advocates for such team members. There is very little a project team can do in such scenarios.

But will keep your advice in mind to spend more time to look at conflicts from the other person's viewpoint - especially to see if there are any external factors dictating their responses and their behaviours. Thank you.
Network:747



Feb 01, 2018 11:02 PM
Replying to Sante Vergini
...
Hi Karan,

In one of my previous projects we had a disruptive team member who often would ridicule others, and make them feel worthless from time to time. This person was great at their job, and had both technical and project skills unmatched by most people in the company. Nonetheless their people skills left a lot to be desired. Incidentally they were full-time, whereas most of the project team were contractors, including myself. As the project progressed, it became clear that we would have issues with this person and occasional roadblocks.

Following numerous attempts to talk with this individual and suggest an alternative way of behaving, the team had enough. Instead of reporting them to senior management (one being an advocate for this person which would not have gone down well), the team mutually decided to totally ignore this person, in conversations and requests. Within 1 week the lackluster status reports submitted by this person were coming to the attention of management and there were rumors that this person could not handle the job.

An amazing thing happened. The person approached us to resolve the issue, and we all agreed to re-iterate the ground rules that were already established, but also offered to help the person in one area that was the main cause of their behavior which I won't mention here.
Thanks, Sante. It's a very interesting experience. If the person is smart enough to try and work with the team, then I guess the minor hit to the project schedule was worth it -- and, in fact, with the entire team pulling in one direction I bet the team would have even made up that missed week in the end.

Will keep this in mind for future scenarios. Thank you.
Network:1627



Karan,
Well there is always that As..... irritating person in every department everywhere I have seen a lots and always in my team, Now here in North America we have more strict laws, we have duty to accommodate, undue hardship, so when you take progressive actions to break the last straw we need to documents all evidence of testimony, to prove due diligence, establish just cause, create history of events for aggravating factors and you start verbal warrant, written warrant 1 or 2 then finally termination, those with negative attitude they can poison the whole environment of the team so you need to take immediate action which depends on the level of your authority.
Let us know under your country circumstances & legislation how can you corner him and what action can you take?

Sante points also valid for those who really have personal problems and they need counseling and help, there is a little hope that they can improve and contribute positively but it looks from your expression that you're really dealing with a real Jacka..
...
1 reply by Karan Shah
Feb 02, 2018 12:34 AM
Karan Shah
...
Thanks for the inputs, Riyadh.

I handle projects based in multiple countries, so really am not aware of the labour laws everywhere.

In any case, removing a member from the team would not be the end-game I would aim for. While the atmosphere for the rest of the team does get better, I lose the services of a star performer (when it comes to the work being handled). Nobody wins in the long run.

I don't mind team members being strongly opinionated or loud and vocal or behaving like grade A jerks as long as it does not impact the project deliverables, project metrics, or the team atmosphere. Sometimes people refuse to look at these consequences in a conflict and choose to make it personal.

Maybe there is no win-win scenario all the time in such cases - but what I am seeking are the approaches one can adopt to reduce the chance of a team change while making such team members as productive and contributing members in teaming (over and above their on-paper deliverables).
Network:747



Feb 01, 2018 11:41 PM
Replying to S Rajasekar
...
Need to understand why someone is behaving that way , is this happening always or some time ? It might happen he/she might be going through hard times , if so need to help them

If it is always then they need to learn lesson on hard way ...

Observe person and situation make good judgement ..talk to them explain them

One thing people have to understand how much ever one is skilled or competent if there is an attitude issue they will be not tolerated for long can be replaced. Make them understand this

If nothing works build backup .. get them out

Arrogance and aggressive could be due to over confidence....or inferiority complex

Time teaches everything
Thanks, Raj. You've put your finger on the problem when you mentioned the attitude.

I personally do not think this was temporary - our project teams have competent resources in high-skill areas and there definitely is an aura of "I know best and I will not adapt to the needs of the project".

Toleration of the attitude, by itself, is sometimes is not a choice. Especially at times when internal stakeholders are (as Sante has so beautifully put it in the first response) advocates for such team members. There is very little a project team can do in such scenarios.

But will keep your advice in mind to spend more time to look at conflicts from the other person's viewpoint - especially to see if there are any external factors dictating their responses and their behaviours. Thank you.
Network:747



Feb 02, 2018 12:21 AM
Replying to Riyadh Salih
...
Karan,
Well there is always that As..... irritating person in every department everywhere I have seen a lots and always in my team, Now here in North America we have more strict laws, we have duty to accommodate, undue hardship, so when you take progressive actions to break the last straw we need to documents all evidence of testimony, to prove due diligence, establish just cause, create history of events for aggravating factors and you start verbal warrant, written warrant 1 or 2 then finally termination, those with negative attitude they can poison the whole environment of the team so you need to take immediate action which depends on the level of your authority.
Let us know under your country circumstances & legislation how can you corner him and what action can you take?

Sante points also valid for those who really have personal problems and they need counseling and help, there is a little hope that they can improve and contribute positively but it looks from your expression that you're really dealing with a real Jacka..
Thanks for the inputs, Riyadh.

I handle projects based in multiple countries, so really am not aware of the labour laws everywhere.

In any case, removing a member from the team would not be the end-game I would aim for. While the atmosphere for the rest of the team does get better, I lose the services of a star performer (when it comes to the work being handled). Nobody wins in the long run.

I don't mind team members being strongly opinionated or loud and vocal or behaving like grade A jerks as long as it does not impact the project deliverables, project metrics, or the team atmosphere. Sometimes people refuse to look at these consequences in a conflict and choose to make it personal.

Maybe there is no win-win scenario all the time in such cases - but what I am seeking are the approaches one can adopt to reduce the chance of a team change while making such team members as productive and contributing members in teaming (over and above their on-paper deliverables).
Network:487



Feb 01, 2018 11:02 PM
Replying to Sante Vergini
...
Hi Karan,

In one of my previous projects we had a disruptive team member who often would ridicule others, and make them feel worthless from time to time. This person was great at their job, and had both technical and project skills unmatched by most people in the company. Nonetheless their people skills left a lot to be desired. Incidentally they were full-time, whereas most of the project team were contractors, including myself. As the project progressed, it became clear that we would have issues with this person and occasional roadblocks.

Following numerous attempts to talk with this individual and suggest an alternative way of behaving, the team had enough. Instead of reporting them to senior management (one being an advocate for this person which would not have gone down well), the team mutually decided to totally ignore this person, in conversations and requests. Within 1 week the lackluster status reports submitted by this person were coming to the attention of management and there were rumors that this person could not handle the job.

An amazing thing happened. The person approached us to resolve the issue, and we all agreed to re-iterate the ground rules that were already established, but also offered to help the person in one area that was the main cause of their behavior which I won't mention here.
I'm amazed how quickly and well that approach worked, Sante. I don't think it would be effective in my current environment, but I'll definitely keep it in mind for the future.
...
1 reply by Sante Vergini
Feb 02, 2018 7:28 AM
Sante Vergini
...
Eric, it wouldn't always work, especially if the disrupter has a senior manager as an advocate.
Network:1612



For me it is simple: understanding people from Newton´s Laws of physic. Mainly the third: action-reaction (I wrote an article that was published by the PMI). People behaves in a way because a reason. Beyond the Newtons Laws things that helps me a lot: 1-understand that reasons to behave are people perceives a problem. But problem is the gap between perceived reality and desire reality. So, you can work on perception, you can work on desire or you can work on the gap. 2-to work on that I use a method named "Solution Selling" or SPIN Selling. I am not a seller but because positions I had in some organizations I was trained on it.
...
1 reply by Karan Shah
Feb 02, 2018 7:00 AM
Karan Shah
...
That's an interesting approach, Sergio.

I have read your article on Newton's laws on Org. Change - unfortunately in this scenario here I am usually the reactor (and not the actor) - and in more cases than none my reaction has definitely not been the opposite. It has been one of yielding, of cajoling, of mollycoddling.

In some of these cases, it has not brought about an expected result. It has made the instigating behaviour even more aggressive.

The underlying cause (or my assumption of it) was touched upon very well by Raj in an earlier reply to this post - there is the perception of "I am the SME, I cannot be told what to do. I will do what I think is best". It's not so much that they resent the task that is being asked of them - it is more that they resent the fact that they are being asked in the first place.

So, if I am to take anything away from your reply:
1. Perception (instigator): I am an SME. I will do what I feel is best.
2. Reality: The project team has objectives, budgets, and deadlines to meet. Activities have to be centrally managed to achieve an optimal outcome. Here, by the PM.
3. Gap: Who directs the activities of such prima donna SMEs?

I have already tried to meet this perception (as outlined in the original post) by having the instigator win conflicts often (although only for aspects not having a consequence on the project itself). But that does not seem to be enough.

I cannot change the reality. My objective is to have the project executed smoothly.

The issue, therefore, is on what approaches one can take to address this gap for someone who refuses to entertain any thought of working as one team. Even the SPIN questions are ineffective when someone has decided they want to be difficult only because they can do so.

In any case, deeply appreciate the inputs. There definitely is scope to use the SPIN method and also to review reasons for why a certain behaviour type is being manifested.
Network:747



Feb 02, 2018 5:24 AM
Replying to Sergio Luis Conte
...
For me it is simple: understanding people from Newton´s Laws of physic. Mainly the third: action-reaction (I wrote an article that was published by the PMI). People behaves in a way because a reason. Beyond the Newtons Laws things that helps me a lot: 1-understand that reasons to behave are people perceives a problem. But problem is the gap between perceived reality and desire reality. So, you can work on perception, you can work on desire or you can work on the gap. 2-to work on that I use a method named "Solution Selling" or SPIN Selling. I am not a seller but because positions I had in some organizations I was trained on it.
That's an interesting approach, Sergio.

I have read your article on Newton's laws on Org. Change - unfortunately in this scenario here I am usually the reactor (and not the actor) - and in more cases than none my reaction has definitely not been the opposite. It has been one of yielding, of cajoling, of mollycoddling.

In some of these cases, it has not brought about an expected result. It has made the instigating behaviour even more aggressive.

The underlying cause (or my assumption of it) was touched upon very well by Raj in an earlier reply to this post - there is the perception of "I am the SME, I cannot be told what to do. I will do what I think is best". It's not so much that they resent the task that is being asked of them - it is more that they resent the fact that they are being asked in the first place.

So, if I am to take anything away from your reply:
1. Perception (instigator): I am an SME. I will do what I feel is best.
2. Reality: The project team has objectives, budgets, and deadlines to meet. Activities have to be centrally managed to achieve an optimal outcome. Here, by the PM.
3. Gap: Who directs the activities of such prima donna SMEs?

I have already tried to meet this perception (as outlined in the original post) by having the instigator win conflicts often (although only for aspects not having a consequence on the project itself). But that does not seem to be enough.

I cannot change the reality. My objective is to have the project executed smoothly.

The issue, therefore, is on what approaches one can take to address this gap for someone who refuses to entertain any thought of working as one team. Even the SPIN questions are ineffective when someone has decided they want to be difficult only because they can do so.

In any case, deeply appreciate the inputs. There definitely is scope to use the SPIN method and also to review reasons for why a certain behaviour type is being manifested.
...
1 reply by Sergio Luis Conte
Feb 02, 2018 8:06 AM
Sergio Luis Conte
...
I faced this situation lot of times (including today. less than before, but I faced it sometimes because I have to work with VPs). The situation you stated is easy to solve if you understand this: 1-the project is not yours. The project stakeholders are the owners. 2-you must not said what/when/how/who compose the project. SMEs must said that. 3-the project is started to achieve an organizational objective. Then, people above the SMEs are involved indeed. They will help you with the SMEs. 4-SMEs who do not understand that are not part of the project team. You have to publish it and you have to record issues and risks just in case to not include an SMEs will put the project in danger.
Network:943



Karan -

I experienced this on a project where I was replacing the original PM. One of the technical leads had been classified as toxic by this PM, the sponsor and other team members when I met with them individually and indeed, I found the individual's behavior in group settings to be very irritating.

After observing this behavior and the reactions of other team members, I met with the individual and asked her whether she was aware of how her actions were making those around her feel. I also asked her whether she really wanted the project to succeed.

While she was somewhat aware of her effect on others, no one had the courage till then to bring this candidly to her attention so she was somewhat defensive.

It took a few such meetings with her to convince her that there was a consistent pattern of behavior. That started to make her more open to accepting my feedback and while she never became fully self-aware, I did see enough of a change in her more painful habits to enable the team to complete the project without bloodshed.

Kiron
...
1 reply by Karan Shah
Feb 03, 2018 10:25 PM
Karan Shah
...
Thank you, Kiron. It is a good approach. Will keep this in mind.
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