October 06, 2006

Difficult Personalities, Part 1: Can One Person Ruin The Whole Team?

Project manager certainly can. Project manager can ruin whatever he sets his mind to: project, project team, whatever...
Can a “regular” team member ruin the whole, otherwise healthy, team? That’s another question.

To explain this little bit better. It is a sad truth that there are actually persons who have so many professional flaws and flaws in their personality, that they are actually a real threats to teamwork and, for that reason, a threat to project success.

I’m not talking about incompetence. Incompetent team member is only a gap in the team. Problematic person I’m talking about is a person who makes other team members suffer because of his or hers unprofessional behavior.

Of course, if this person was incompetent and also completely useless to the team or the company, than he or she would be easily removed from the team. At lease that is what experts prescribe in such cases. The problem is that, often, persons in question are, for some other characteristics, extremely useful for the team and the company. In those cases it is very difficult to say weather the benefits are outweighing the drawbacks.

In bigger teams, people usually don’t suffer too much because of one person’s behavior.

If a team consists of few persons, than I would say that both damage and the benefit from such a person are significant and it’s very difficult to decide what to do. To overcome problems, two things have to be in place:
  • Other team members have to cooperate and get along well above average (even if we are talking about two or three persons only). I have actually seen that this alone can reduce the destructive influence of a problematic team member.
  • Manager has to at all times provide support to “endangered” team members by stressing that company doesn’t approve unprofessional behavior - no no matter how indispensable you are for the project.

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