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How to Manage Your Difficult Team Member

Organization & Teams


January 8, 2020

August 26, 2020

No matter where we go in life, we are bound to come across people that challenge us. This is especially true for the workplace. How to manage your ‘problem’ people?
In order to function, companies rely on teamwork. A well-performing team is essential for launching your business to new heights. Sometimes, however, not everyone in your team seems keen on doing so. 

The Harvard Business Review
calls it ‘the toxic coworker’: that one team member that always seems to create drama, undermines the values of the company and the CEO and degrades the team culture. 

At best, they’re a nuisance to work with. At worse, they prevent your company from achieving its goals. Here are a few key pointers for CEOs that have to deal with a difficult team member. 

Acknowledge toxic behavior

Sometimes it’s tempting to look away from the problems in your team. Facing them means things can get ugly. It means action is required. 

However, even if your toxic team member performs well in terms of productivity, results or experience – toxic behavior should never be tolerated. Research shows that a good company culture is largely founded on ‘psychological safety’ , which is defined as “a team climate characterized by interpersonal trust and mutual respect in which people are comfortable being themselves”. 

If someone is jeopardizing that safety – be it by accident or deliberately – it’s your job as a CEO to acknowledge it as soon as you can. If you look away from it, you’re directly contributing to the problem. You want to protect the reputation of your employee. Plus: the longer you wait, the harder it will be for your employee  to change his or her behavior.  

Act on it

Once you’ve identified there’s a problem, it’s time for the hard part: act on it. 

Different kinds of toxic behavior ask for different kinds of approaches. In general, every solution starts with a candid, open conversation. Respectfully ask if something’s the matter. Give your employee all the space he (or she) needs to express his feelings and acknowledge them. Try to understand the reasons for his behavior. 

Search for a solution that you’re both comfortable with. For instance, if a lack of enthusiasm and motivation is the problem – resulting in a lot of complaining – ask your employee what you could do to make him or her feel more inspired. Maybe all your employee needs is a more challenging project to work on. Be honest. If you, as a CEO, open up to your employee, there’s a good chance he or she might do the same. 

Since you’re all working in a team, in many cases toxic behavior has something to do with the dynamics between coworkers. If team members complain about gossiping in the workplace, a team meeting can be a powerful tool to gain insights into perspectives and set standards of expected behavior. 

Give it time  

Behavior does not change overnight. You can’t expect your employees to adjust immediately. Provide your employees with feedback regularly. Ask your employee to give you feedback as well. In fact, a healthy company culture starts with giving each other space to grow. 

However, if you’ve noticed your team member does not want to change or is simply not capable, it’s probably best to let him or her go. 

Always remember: you hired this person yourself.  Your employee was once a solution to your problem. Ask yourself as a CEO what you can learn from this experience. Were you not aware enough in the selection process? Did your company values change? 

Don’t just look at your employee, look at yourself too. 

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