Managing a disruptive team member

Managing a disruptive team member

Managing a disruptive team member

Human Resources’ role isn’t easy, from telling a worker they’re dressed inappropriately to navigating the pitfalls of worker romances – it’s a job that often requires tact and the ability to suppress embarrassment. So what if a worker’s personality is affecting team morale and engagement?

Personality clashes are common, but when one employee doesn’t seem to fit it’s a tough job for HR. If their work performance is meeting requirements it can seem like there is nothing to do but hope the problem solves itself. However, delaying can be a serious mistake.

“Most leaders get wary of confronting the individual because on the surface it doesn't appear to be a performance problem. In reality that is exactly what it is,” HR consultant and coach Carlann Fergusson said. “When the behavior of the individual is causing others to avoid working with him/her it does affect everyone’s performance.”

In a workplace that requires cooperation and teamwork, these kinds of conflicts affect efficiency and even when the person works independently the issue could be affecting client and colleague relationships. Fergusson suggested the key for the manager is to help the employee see it as a problem that they must correct to be successful.

She suggests taking the following steps:

  1. Describe the behavior and its consequences
    Try not to label behavior, or suggest intent when describing it.  Instead of saying "Your arrogance is causing people to avoid working with you." try saying "when you respond to people on the phone or in person your words and tone are being interpreted as arrogant. This may not be your intent but the result is people avoid working with you."
  2. Get the employee to own the problem
    Ask the individual what they think the consequences of their behavior and the perceptions are to the workgroup, the customers, to you, to the company. Ask "What do you think happens when people perceive you in this way?" and don't answer it for them. The employee needs to own the problem. You want the employee to understand that he or she owns solving the problem.
  3. Offer help but be careful not to solve the problem for them
    The employee may not know what exactly is causing the problem, so it’s important to help them understand the exact behaviors that are problematic. You can offer coaching and training  but it is not your role to come up with a solution. Ask the employee what specifically he or she can do to change the behavior and improve the perceptions.
  4. Make certain the employee understands the urgency required
    Ask the employee what they think will happen if they don't correct the behavior. Ensure they fully understand that if it isn't corrected it will affect their performance rating and may lead to termination. You are not threatening them with this - just getting them to acknowledge the severity of the issue.

It may also be necessary to coach coworkers in modelling professional behaviour to avoid the eye-rolling and harmful gossip that can become a de-motivating part of team culture.

Have you dealt with a situation like this? How did you handle it?


  • Dan 2013-02-12 11:45:25 AM
    Couldn't agree more with the notion that bad behaviour is a performance issue and very quickly creates a situation whereby team members don't want to work with the offending employee.
    Q. Any advice for the situation where the behavioural issue is an identified mental health problem for which the employee is seeking treatment?
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  • Caitlin Nobes 2013-02-12 12:00:18 PM
    Hi Dan,
    That's a good question. I'll look into it and will see about putting some editorial together on the issue. In the meantime here are a couple stories about recent court cases dealing with mental illness at work:

    Hope that helps!
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  • Varta 2013-02-12 2:45:36 PM
    I experienced having to deal with a problem of productivity affected by behaviors. Having investigated,I concluded that it was not possible to arrive at 'black and white' conclusion and therefore no a quick fix was avaialble - both parties (accused and those who were affected)needed some training. It is acknowledged that it takes great communications skills along with emotional resilience to do well in in a current corporate culture and social expectations. We need to educate employees about diversity and acceptance which goes beyond colour of skin, gender, sexual orientation or religion and that cultural differences and set of personal beliefs is what makes us human. Corporate culture often condones pack like behaviour (group bullying)as well as 'go with a flow' style rather than coexisting. Workshop about how to embrace differences (e.g.MBTI) is one of the steps to correcting behaviours rather than accepting the rule of majority and conformity.
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