Managing Difficult People – 6 Rules for Project Manager’s!

So you’re a high-flying Project Manager that’s been assigned to a new or existing project, and your first task is to take control of your team.  Unfortunately, you realize there are one or more members of your group that are not “team players”.  They either have attitude issues, an “axe to grind”, personality problems, or any number of behavioral concerns that in your analysis are impacting the performance of your team.  What do you do?  Below are some suggestions on how to move forward.

“There seems to be some perverse human characteristic that likes to make easy things difficult”.  Warren Buffett

Rule 1 – Document everything.  I mean every interaction, conversation, email, team meeting, whatever.  What you want is to have a precise archive of all your interactions or observations so that if there is a “showdown” between you, this person, and management, you will have detailed documents of everything said, written, or observed with dates, times, and who else was present, etc.  You need facts so that if you have to build a “performance case” against someone, you’ll have a “data-based”, non-emotional account.

Rule 2 – Nip it in the bud.  Do not let bad behavior linger – address it immediately.  If you don’t address behavior issues immediately then you risk reinforcing the bad behavior or at least looking weak in front of your team.  If a team member exhibits bad behavior in a team meeting, stop the meeting, address the issue or if you think best, ask all the other teams members to exit the room, and speak with the problem maker one-on-one.  Either way, the sooner you address the behavior the better.

Rule 3 – I follow the “Offense 1-2-3 rule” for team members who exhibit bad behavior.  Offense 1:  address the behavior directlywin for you, this person, and your team.  Ask for their feedback, and  make sure they understand the behavior will not be tolerated, and let them know the consequences if this behavior should be repeated. Offense 2: I address the behavior issues with the individual in question and their direct manager.  I present the detailed facts in a non emotional manner, and try to identify root cause (are there conflicting priorities, etc..), for the behavior.  I work to have the individual take ownership of the behavioral issue, and buy-into the corrective actions.  I make it clear what will happen if the behavior continues.  Offense 3:  I go one level up and address the issue with the one-over manager, and I ask my Project Sponsor to attend, as well as the individuals manager.  The meeting process is the same and the desired results are for a firm commitment to change.

Rule 4:  Keep your project sponsor updated as to all your team dynamics. I usually include an update on team performance with my weekly and monthly reports. If I see a specific problem, I notify my sponsor immediately – “face-to-face” is preferred, followed by an e-mail. I don’t want my sponsor to be surprised or blind-sided by a rapidly escalating personnel issue. I need to be sure that my sponsor is protecting my blind-spots within the organization. Also, your sponsor can offer you counsel on how to proceed, and perhaps sage advise pertaining to the situation.

Rule 5:  Be carefull about bringing HR into these situations.  Usually,  behavior issues are easy to address and fix if you move quickly and in a precise manner.  Bringing HR into the picture can “blow up” a situation that could have been managed within the team framework.  It depends on the  role of the HR group in your company, and your relationships with the HR group.  I like to have an HR person who is a member of my project team (as a part-time team member or a stakeholder), who I can lean on as needed.  This is not always possible, but having an HR person close can help to head-off behavior issues before these escalate. I’m not saying to exclude HR in the process, rather you need to understand the risks you take once HR is injected into the situation.

Rule 6:  If I don’t have an HR member on my team, I often will ask a senior team member to provide input to me (in private), as to how they view an individual, and the team dynamics. You cannot put this person in a compromising position, but rather you can rely on them to offer root causes of issues (ie.. a team member has conflicting priorities, etc..).  This is a tricky role for a team member, so remember to ensure confidentiality, and never use the input of this person directly against someone else (ie – “Joe tells me that Mary has a drinking problem which makes her aggressive and rude in team meetings”).

The most important thing is to address any behavior issues quickly, firmly and in an organized manner. You want to be clear with your team the behaviors that are not accepted, and let the know your tolerances. Behavior and team dynamics play a large role in determining the ultimate success of your project, so as the leader you need to insure you “stay on top” of these issues from the start.



About Dale Myers

A San Francisco Bay Area Project and Program Expert
This entry was posted in Managing People and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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