Solution Saturday: Dealing with Mr. Irrational
Dear Leadership Freak,
I am needing some advice about how to handle a team member who seems to have some irrational behaviors.
He has been part of our team for four years, had an initially good year and then the issues began. He clashed with a number of middle leaders for resisting some change without collaboration then targeted one of them who resisted the strongest.
I intervened but he objected to my take on the matter and I had to refer it higher. Things settled until the end of last year when he was overlooked for a promotion. He has openly challenged me and another member of the leadership team, who he seems to now target for just about anything minor.
When I address these issues he rejects any criticism or advice about how to do things differently – that is more collaborative and respectful.
He whines about a lack of team approach, but the other members of the team and I believe that he is the only “I” in team. Things are coming to a head as he challenges other staff over minor issues.
We have a wonderful culture of working as a team, collaborating, and respectful relationships.
Should I deal with this as a team issue for support? Take it higher again? Or just lay down the law as to what I expect – I Have done the latter with little result.
Dealing with an irrational team member…
I’m not sure why termination isn’t an option. But, since it isn’t, I’ll offer ideas within the boundaries of keeping “Irrational”.
The simplest option would be to turn this over to HR to begin corrective measures. I’m sure you have reasons for not moving in this direction. However, consult with HR to be sure you stay within organizational and legal guidelines.
Stop doing things that haven’t worked. More of the same will yield more disappointment and frustration.
I’m not sure “Irrational’s” behavior is irrational to him. He’s behaving in ways that make sense to him.
The fact that his first year went well indicates he knows how to perform within your culture.
Clarify what your team member wants for himself, colleagues, and your organization. You may believe you know what he wants, but it’s worth a conversation or two.
How do behaviors reflect and align with wants?
- Explore, don’t correct his vision, as long as it doesn’t collide with organizational mission and vision.
- Ask how his behaviors are helping him achieve what he wants for himself and others.
- Identify four new behaviors that might serve him better.
- Choose one simple behavior that better serves “Irrational” and your organization.
- Discuss when and how he will try his new behavior. Include frequency.
- Create accountability by setting up weekly follow up meetings.
- Ask four questions during follow up:
- What did you try? Ask for descriptions.
- How did it work?
- What did you learn?
- What will you try next week? (Adapt as you go.)
- Have him paint a picture of the next step. What will relationships look like if “Irrational” makes progress?
- Set a deadline for improvement. Deadlines will help you include frequent reports, observation, and abundant feedback.
- Design consequences if things don’t improve. You might consider giving him assignments that isolate him from others.
- Involve “Irrational” in all aspects of corrective action. (You indicated that “laying down the law” didn’t work.)
- Follow through with your commitments. Don’t continue to give second chances.
Second chances, after repeated offenses, teach everyone that you don’t really mean what you say.
Include others within your organization:
Since teamwork is an important part of your organization, include others in the process. Transparency and candor will protect you from misunderstandings and false accusations. However, own the problem, even as you share it with your team.
If he won’t listen to one, perhaps he’ll listen to a small group.
Include others in “Irrational’s” rehabilitation. Two or three team members may be useful for guidance and accountability.
Don’t reveal confidences, but talk this over with people you respect. Maintain a solution orientation.
- Seek outside counsel.
- Generate several options to move the ball forward.
- Choose an option that makes the most sense and try it.
- Set a deadline for improvement.
Five final ideas:
- One bad team member pollutes the whole team. “Irrational” is doing more damage than you think.
- Others within your organization are waiting for you to take this situation by the horns.
- Culture is built by behaviors you tolerate.
- Protect yourself by seeking help, being transparent, and keeping the best interest of all parties at the top of your priorities.
- Place the interests of your best people ahead of the interests of your worst.
You have my best,
*I relax my 300 word limit on Solution Saturday.
As a little leaven (yeast) will leaven the entire dough (if you put any yeast in the bread the entire batch will have it). In short just one person who does want to be play nice with the rest of the team can corrupt or even destroy the entire team. I have seen just one angry, spiteful person destroy what was an amazing team. People that get passed over for promotions often have trouble figuring out why. Some cannot accept the fact that they are not as amazing as they think they are. In their mind the only possible reason that they didn’t get the job had nothing to do with them and everything to do with the failures of the leaders. I have heard individuals who are in the situation blame everyone but themselves and may even decide to get even. The thought process is “well I am the best person so they didn’t hire me because”. The because is often something like “they hate me, they promoted their friend, they have targets that I just don’t fit into and many other reasons. I have seen very few incidents that the person could or even wanted to come back to being a team player. The ideas that Dan listed in this article are your best course of action. Keep in mind your #1 priority is to protect the rest of your team. Now dealing the employee will be hard it is very unlikely that the person will change their view. To do so would require the individual to admit that they are not as amazing as they think they are. Good luck and Document Document Document and don’t forget when you deal with the employee to document everything.
On this one I was at Termination before you wrote it. One bad apple or employee can over time damage the team or cause a good member to leave for the wrong reason. And your comment that as a Leader you need to reinforce you and your team’s values and styles is right on or the group culture will not hold.
Sounds exactly like a situation I left for the same reason.
“Culture is built by behaviors you tolerate.”
This statement is the best I’ve read on this blog.
When you as a supervisor tolerates bad behavior it is the same as condoning it and once you condone it becomes the new standard.
Great response Dan. It’s really interesting the behaviour managers/leaders tolerate. My question is why? And it generally comes back to their fear of confrontation or concern about not being likedfrom my experience. Set boundaries, keep people accountable and to protect your culture there must be consequences to action and the choices people make. Including termination.
Second chances after repeated behaviours means you’re not serious. Definitely. Love that!
As a good leader, you shall try all possible measures to change the behaviour of a problemetic team member. Still, when things go beyond control and all possible efforts fail then termination is only the answer.
Nothing wrong, if things get corrected with a removal of person who is a hindrance to the progressive work environment! However, it is better to involve HR and take the guidance while going with an ultimate weapon. It’s a clear message for others to fall into the set systems and remain as a good team player.
A Players get the opportunity to advance and teach others
B Players get the opportunity for training, mentoring and improvement
C Players get the opportunity to work somewhere else.
“Irrational” clearly does not enjoy where he is, what he is doing, who he works with/for or all of the above. Set him free to find something he loves.
Loved the feedback,
Every person can be coached up. Not every person can be coached in the same way. A great leader is able to tailor her/his approach to different employee’s.
Great post with excellent follow-on remarks for what the case-study tells us.
Your comment that, “He’s behaving in ways that make sense to him,” makes me wonder if there’s more to the story. Implementing change without collaboration and referring objections to higher management could indicate conflicting perspectives on senior management direction. If senior managers are sending conflicting or ambiguous signals, the kind of behavior described in this post is almost certain to result.