When Difficulties Arise with Project Team Members

Each project resource on your very talented project team has his or her own unique talents that they bring to the engagement. Managing that team should have to be too hard. However, they do each come to the table with their own unique experiences, behaviors, attitudes, egos, and beliefs about how things should be done.

Each team member presents a different challenge to the project manager. I’m not saying you’ll always have control issues with project team members on every project. In terms of project team members behavior, compliance, and cooperation, many projects can go off without a hitch However, sooner or later you will encounter a situation where your authority is challenged by a project team member or conflict arises. It could be that a team member just isn’t following through on the tasks assigned to them and they are not focusing well on the project as a whole. What you have is a control issue.

You’re the project manager and you’ve now lost some degree of control over that resource or your project team in general. That is definitely not a good thing and you must correct the situation quickly if you hope to maintain your reputation as a good project manager and leader in your organization. I’ve thought about this at length – from my own perspective as well as discussions with other colleagues – and I’ve concluded that the best sequence of actions – if all must play out – are the following. Hopefully, it ends with the first one…

Discuss privately with the team member.

Of course, whenever possible, always go to the source. It’s the honorable and respectable – and professional – thing to do. And 99% of all issues can be solved or dealt with through this initial course of action. Have a sit down discussion with the project team member who is causing the rift or conflict or is displaying rogue and damaging behavior. The project manager needs to ensure that everyone is on the same page and that’s the message that needs to be re-instilled in this project team member’s behavior pattern. Again, for most, the problematic behavior ends with this discussion. If not, we move on…

Go to their manager.

If step 1 doesn’t take care of it, then the project manager must move on to the resource’s direct supervisor – assuming we’re operating in a matrix project resource environment. The true disciplinary action – if it’s needed – would have to come from this supervisor. So they must be made aware of what’s happening and how it is affecting the project. And they must also be made aware of the fact that step 1 above didn’t work. Now it’s their turn to have that discussion with the resource.

Replace the resource on the project. Finally, if nothing has worked so far, the only action left is to have them removed from the project – and this may also likely land them in the unemployment line as well. It’s always a tough action to take – and thankfully I’ve only had to go this far once – but it’s necessary to ensure that the project remains on course. Get a new resource with the right skill set and start the process of on-boarding them immediately. Since you likely won’t have the luxury of having them shadow the outgoing resource, you’ll need someone who is confident, experienced, a good communicator, and available now.

Summary / call for input

No one wants to take the hard line unless they absolutely have to. We have very skilled resources working on our projects and those individuals come with experience and egos. But they must understand how to work as productive team members. And if they can’t do that, action must be taken. Hopefully not all the way to step 3, but the project manager must be prepared to go that far – if necessary – to show leadership and to keep the project intact.

Readers – what are your thoughts on these three steps? Have you had to go to step 3? Please share your own steps and let’s discuss.

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Brad Egeland
Brad Egeland is a Business Solution Designer and IT/PM consultant and author with over 25 years of software development, management, and project management experience leading initiatives in Manufacturing, Government Contracting, Creative Design, Gaming and Hospitality, Retail Operations, Aviation and Airline, Pharmaceutical, Start-ups, Healthcare, Higher Education, Non-profit, High-Tech, Engineering and general IT. He has authored more than 4,000 expert project management, best practices and business strategy articles, eBooks and videos. Brad is married, a father of 11, and living in sunny Las Vegas, NV. Visit Brad's site at http://www.bradegeland.com/.

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