9 Ways To Manage Difficult Team Members: Manager’s Addition


One of the challenges of a team dynamic is the interaction between different individuals, especially when some team members make the dynamic difficult. Those who we call “the difficult team members.” 

When dealing with a difficult team member, an aim for a seamless resolution is always preferable, as any other way may drastically affect the team’s dynamic and cause unnecessary stress.

9 Ways To Manage Difficult Team Members:

Recognize The Issue 

When managing difficult team members, the first step and challenge might be recognizing that they or their behavior poses a problem to the team’s dynamic. That can happen for numerous reasons. For instance, maybe their behavior isn’t usually so hostile, or at least not in your presence. That might cause it to slip through instead of being addressed. 

Regardless, you need to recognize the issue if you want to change it. A great way to do it is by being vigilant of the team’s dynamic and making it a habit to constantly check in with your team in group and privately. Having someone of your trust in the team, who tells you what issues they deal with, is also good. 

Ask for other team member’s insight on it 

As I said, your team’s insight can help you identify the issue and it can also help you understand when the issue needs to be addressed. Difficult team members exist in all teams. Besides the fact that they are complex, they might have qualities that make their difficulty worth overlooking. That’s how your team member’s insight on the subject becomes indispensable. 

Your team member’s insight will help you see if this is an issue that is affecting everyone and their work dynamic, so it needs to be addressed; Or, if it’s something that though bad, doesn’t need to be made a case of. 

Make sure that it doesn’t come out as gossip, though, as that can be negative for the team. 

Privately Access The Problem With The Difficult Team Member 

Bringing up an issue in front of the whole team, with a difficult team member, has a huge potential of it going wrong. The point of addressing the issue is finding a resolution. That is less likely to happen when a person feels taken off guard and attacked by their team. 

For that reason, addressing the issue directly and privately with the problematic team member is the best way to go about it, as people generally don’t like having their mistakes highlighted (especially in front of everyone). 

Quick-Tip: 

Check your tone and how you address it; try your best to keep your observation professional, rather than personal and in an accusatory tone, as that is more likely to cause him/her to listen and recognize his mistake.  

Deliberate Ways To Solve It 

This can be done privately or with the help of the difficult team member or other team members, depending on the issue. Another way you can do this is immediately or after a long period of thinking it through.

The issue can be solved instantly if the conversation with the difficult team member proves that it is rather superficial and easily corrected. Usually, in cases of random poor behavior, a punctual issue with another team member (in which case you address it with both), or even a small delay in meeting the deadline. 

Implement The Solution 

After the conversation and the proper deliberation, you should see the solution implemented.

There needs to be a change, usually coming from the difficult team member. 

Yet there may be situations or cases this doesn’t happen, or it happens at first before things slowly fade back to “normal.” 

Check-in With The Problematic Team Member 

Keep tabs on the difficult team member and his progress towards the solution. It’s a crucial step for finding out if the way you dealt with it was effective or not.

Analyze If You Solved The Issue

As said previously, sometimes you may see changes initially, only to see things go back to normal shortly afterward. Or perhaps the solution wasn’t all that effective, and nothing changed. Either way, you want to learn this as soon as possible, as it may affect work and the team.

Check-in With Other Team Members 

Checking in with the difficult team member alone isn’t enough. Since you are dealing with a whole team and their actions also affect them, you should include them in all steps of the process, even if not directly.

You can do that by asking around to see if they noticed any changes or if they have any complaints. 

Consider Confrontation or Drastic Measures

Confrontation is usually the less desired method, yet sometimes it’s indispensable to help you come up with a solution (for whatever is affecting the team). You might need to be a little more direct and action-oriented with the difficult team member. It might even happen that you need to be harsh and rigid. 

Though unpleasant, confrontation and drastic measures might be the only solution for the issue. If, for instance, any other arrangement failed, maybe terminating the problematic team member would be the only way to go about it. 

Keep in mind that confrontation doesn’t mean being rude. You should be able to address the issue without insulting them. 

Another helpful thing for managing difficult team members is knowing what types of difficult team members you might encounter. I obviously can’t cover all, as people have their peculiarities, but I’ve gathered a list of the main types and their characteristics. 

Types Of Difficult Team Members 

The most popular difficult team member types are: 

The Quiet One or The Disengaged Member

This type is usually slightly outside of the team’s dynamic, either for shyness or disinterest. They don’t engage much with the other team members, which can negatively affect the team, as communication and the engagement of all members is necessary to make things work. 

How to deal with it: 

After following the general steps, the good thing is to craft a safe way for them to start engaging with you and with the team. Either by being more open for private interaction with them or warning the team about their shyness (when that’s the case). 

If it’s a case of disinterest, get to the bottom of it by exploring different work dynamics that may motivate them. If they don’t help themselves, it may be wise to let them go. 

The Victim 

Usually, the team member who always seems to be coming out on the downside, has many complaints and always feels like things are happening to them. They are almost like the negative type, with one particularity: they lack accountability. 

How to deal with it: 

Help them develop a sense of accountability by showing them where they need to take it.

The Negative Nancy

Like the victim, this type usually complains a lot too. They remind the team of all the ways something can go wrong. Although that has a positive side to it (precaution), it can also be off-putting. 

How to deal with it:

Try to help them have a more positive outlook and never give them any leadership role until they have evolved past the negativity, as their attitude might affect other team members. 

The Argumentative 

This type usually challenges you and other team members with controversial viewpoints and new perspectives. That is both positive and negative, depending on how much these arguments are valuable and not just disruptive. 

How to deal with it:

Consider the points they bring up, to see how valuable they can be. Make sure to teach them the importance of considering other people’s perspectives and giving other people space to intervene. As well as the importance of presenting their arguments in a non disruptive manner. 

The “Know-it-all” 

Just like the argumentative, they may also bring in a new perspective and new viewpoints. The difficulty is in the fact that their attitude is generally inflexible. They are not open to other perspectives, and it’s pretty hard to change their mind. 

How to deal with it:

Like with the argumentative type, you should also consider their perspective, as they are usually smart. Yet, induce them to think about how their attitude might impact other team members. 

The Self-Centered 

Not being team players; they can disrupt team dynamics by focusing too much on their own good. Though they might get the job done (individually), that is not enough to consider it well done, as being able to do it with the team is the primary goal. 

How to deal with it: 

Seek to understand what’s behind their self-centered tendencies and make them see reason and see the benefits and the importance of working with the team.

The Bully 

They cause hostility and discomfort within the team. They have an aggressive attitude and are ready to attack their team members. That causes disharmony in the group and may induce self-esteem issues in other team members. 

How to deal with it: 

Make them realize that their behavior is harmful and therefore unacceptable. If they refuse to change, the best thing might be to have them step aside for everyone’s sake. 

The Nonchalant 

This type takes everything lightly, which can be good for keeping things light and positive in work. Yet, their attitude might sometimes stand in the way of the team’s objectives if they don’t take anything seriously but rather as a joke. 

How to deal with it: 

Allow them to show their personality, yet guide them to take the deadlines and tasks seriously. By allowing them to show their personality, you will enable them to feel seen and understood. That’s a great motivation for them to be serious when necessary. 

The Blabber 

As the name says, this type talks a lot. The problem is when too much talking is being done, where there should be work done. 

How to deal with it: 

Teach them how valuable silence and listening is. Motivate them to focus more on taking action. 

It might happen that instead of having to deal with a few difficult team members, you need to deal with a difficult team. The challenge might be big, but I have looked into how you can contour it. 

How to Deal With a Difficult Team 

A difficult team member is an isolated case of a rotten apple. Dealing with a difficult team has more to do with cleaning up the mess after the apple has contaminated other fruits. 

That can be done by properly preparing the team for the changes ahead by having an initial conversation about it, where you dive deep into the details of the team’s issues and discuss how they impact them and their work. And by drawing a plan with the team to solve the issues within a time frame in which constant check-ins’ will happen, keeping the team’s good rhythm. 

You shouldn’t be afraid to do a complete reboot on the way you and your team work. Sometimes profound change is the only way to redirect your team to success. 

 

Sum Up!

We have all certainly been one of these types of difficult team members in different team dynamics. Looking into it and into the “how” factor is a great way to understand where they are coming from. That is a valuable insight for you as a team leader or manager!

Further Readings 

How Should You  Deal With Difficult Team Members. TECH IN ASIA 

7 Steps For Dealing With A Difficult Team Member. PROJECT BLISS 

Emidio Amadebai

For the past 2 years, I have been working as the head of Customer Experience, Sales, Marketing, and Customer Finance at an international pay as you go solar home system company working in rural areas in Africa. After my previous 7 years working in B2B, IT&Telecoms industry, as a Service Delivery and Project Manager, having worked with Vodacom, Huawei, and other multinational companies. My job is to make sure we improve the lives of thousands of families, with access to electricity, utilities (radio, TV, lights), doing our very best so that they get the best-in-class customer experience, and succeed in acquiring the products for themselves.

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