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How to manage your team when someone isn't a team player?

25 Oct 10:00 By Lawrence Akers

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It is always exciting to find yourself being promoted within your job and for many people, the dream is to land in a management position. Having a team to work with and being able to mentor and help develop the career of those reporting to you is something that often speaks to the values many hold. If you’re lucky, you’re blessed with a dream team who work collaboratively and who are curious, engaged and committed. If you’re not as lucky, then you may find that there are certain members who aren’t as equally enthused to be a team player and who may make your mission that little bit more harder.

I was recently speaking with someone who I’ve had the pleasure of working with for many years and watched her career grow from Finished Artist, to Studio Manager, and now stepping up again. Her current employer has recognised the immense talent that she has and given her more responsibility to manage one of the existing teams that are there. The challenge is this; one of the team members has been there for decades and has the worst attention to detail which has often meant that quality of the work, and therefore the business, suffers. She called and shared her stress - what do you do when you’re meant to manage someone who is ‘part of the furniture of the business’ and who is not wanting to acknowledge the wishes of their management.

Now, it should be said that there are no one-size-fits-all rules around this because there are going to be quite a few factors at place. In my experience, it is going to come down to the personalities of each person, the support that exists for the management, and the managers ability to be able to influence and to create a structure that encourages and reinforced change.

If we were to ‘chunk up’ though, and go to a higher level with this problem, there are certain generalised observations that can help with a situation like this.


Have a specific goal and ensure that it is measurable

In order to create a structure in which to promote change, your team need to have a clear vision of what they need to achieve and in what way this success can be measured. If you have something vague that you cannot measure, then you’re leaving success up to subjective interpretation. While some people might view these as KPI’s, if they’re presented in a way to ensure that the quality of the work being produced is met, then there should be no misunderstanding that these measurements are in place to protect the quality of service and best interests of the business.


Have a clear time frame on how long this is to be achieved, and make it realistic

There is no point expecting massive change overnight. If you are capable of breaking down the tasks into smaller tasks and placing a timeframe around them, even better. This will ensure that each step doesn’t feel as overwhelming and can give everyone the time to invest in what is required, achieve it, and feel good about that achievement too. 

If your timeframe is unrealistic, then you’re essentially setting your team up to fail and doing more damage than good to the culture. 

Remember, the culture of the environment is a two way stream and often involves the reaction as much as the trigger. When your team become resentful due to unrealistic demands, then who is really to blame? Give the team the time and space to achieve the goals on the condition that you expect results.


Communication is vital

When it cones to managing people, clear and precise communication is key. Keep it factual, direct and professional. 

Keep it positive too. If you’re telling your team the story of the beheaded concubines from ‘The Art of War’ and expecting that to inspire them and keep them feeling safe and productive, then you may need to rethink your strategy. This actually happened to me in the past and if you haven’t read it, look it up and you’ll see why it terrified the crap out of me to be informed that I was my bosses ‘concubine’. Despite doing great work at that time, it immediately made me question if my job was actually safe and made me question if I should actually even stay. Motivating your team out of fear is never a good idea and may even result in claims of bullying or leading to mental health issues.

Ensure that your team knows exactly what needs to be delivered, by when and what determines success and ask them if they have any thoughts on how you can best support them to achieve that. If they have an idea, make sure you follow up on it and deliver the best you can. If not, make sure you communicate the activity back to them in a way that doesn’t feel like micromanagement and give them the space to do their job.


What if nothing happens

This comes to the next part. You’ve set up the goals. You’ve given them an idea of what success means. You’ve created a space for them to step up and to deliver. You’re providing support and regular feedback. What if you find that nothing changes?

If they all seem to be experiencing a challenge, then it may be a problem with ‘the plan’, and it may be worth exploring with them what the biggest challenges are and how you can overcome them. If it seems to be only one person who is experiencing a challenge, then you may need to sit down with them and explore what is holding them back and how you can help, while being very clear on what the expectation is. If the person has become disengaged from their role, you might want to explore what might make them become more engaged again, or if the role is still the right one for them. In management circles, there is often discussion on “managing in or managing out’ and while it is harsh, if the person is no longer engaged with the role, it can often be in everyone’s best interests. It is obviously a last resort, and you really want to ensure you’ve provided every opportunity for that person to step up and rediscover a passion for their work, however it is an option that needs to be considered or else risk impacting on the rest of the team or, worse still, the company itself.

As I said earlier, there is no hard and fast rules as each team will be different and it is vitally important to treat each person with dignity and respect. At the end of the day, your team are not robots nor slaves, they should be treated in the same way you would want to be treated yourself and given the opportunity to make the role meaningful and engaging for them. Leadership is all about genuinely caring for your team and making sure that they have not just the resources they need but the support they need to push through the inevitable challenges that come in our career and to do the best job they can.

For those managers reading this, what advice would you perhaps offer my friend to guide her in getting everyone on board?