What Your Team Won’t Tell You: Part I

“How do you address a team member who is not pulling their weight?”

This topic is great to kick off our “What Your Team Won’t Tell You” series because, well, this could very well be happening in your office – and no one has told you!

A Fortune article on the topic points to 93% of people in a 2013 poll on the topic who said that they have at least one team member currently not pulling his or her weight. Surprising? For anyone who has worked on a team larger than 1, probably not.

The real key here is to dig a little deeper. It’s tempting to react emotionally when you’re working frantically to meet a deadline and you have a team member casually waltzing in and out of the office with no semblance of the stress you’re feeling. Despite their 5 p.m. yoga plans, there is still a project that needs everyone on board.

Instead of assuming that they don’t share the same work ethic or responsibility, have an honest face-to-face conversation.

Difficult, uncomfortable and more stressful, sure. But will you ultimately solve it if you don’t find out what they have going on? Assumptions are not your friend here.

Try sitting down your team member and sharing what you’ve done to meet these deadlines; you can’t expect them to know what you’re doing or what sacrifices you’re making if you don’t tell them. One of my favorite sayings that I’ve often shared with teams, boh large and small, that I’ve managed is, “You train people on how to treat you.” So what are your actions telling them if you don’t have an open and direct conversation?

From one team member to another, these frustrations can frequently be resolved through clear communication and taking time to understand each other’s position. If that doesn’t happen, it’s time to involve a supervisor and advocate for what you need. The goal is simple: have everyone do his or her part and, as a team, do stellar work.

For the managers in the crowd, this does put you in the hot seat. If there’s this type of discord in your group, you have an urgent need to squash the tension to help all of your team members thrive. Having a team grow to resent one another creates a much more complex system of dysfunction in the long haul.

You can work with team members one-on-one to identify measurable actions and outcomes, or can coach them on communicating with one another to improve the teamwork. Every team and every environment is different, so there’s no “one size fits all” method for managing through this common conundrum. Simply be direct and honest and expect the same from your team.

There’s no environment that will benefit from sweeping team dynamics under the rug. If you don’t know it’s going on, that’s another challenge entirely.

Help your team members (whether you’re a manager or not) understand fair and equitable ways to divide work and keep each other in the loop if you feel like things are out of balance. It may not always be a smooth negotiation, but if you’ve shed light on the issue, you can each weigh in. What they’re doing behind the scenes will sometimes surprise you.

Either way, you owe it to your team and to yourself to insist on what you need. You’re on your way to solving one of our most common sources of workplace anxiety — best of luck!

About the Author

Haley Huie is the Texas Pete loving Program Specialist at the EI.  In her free time, Haley can be found spending time with her chef husband and her dog, Texas Pete – yes, like the hot sauce, travelling, listening to jazz, and watching old movies.  Follow her on Twitter at @haleyhuie!

*Photo Credit: http://bit.ly/1TlNYgw