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Managers often talk to me about that certain person on the team; the one who keeps holding up the process. The typical scenario goes something like this:

Manager: We have regular meetings in my office. Every time I bring up the report he hasn’t finished, his answer usually is: “I’m working on it. A bit of a delay, but it should be ready by the end of the week.” So I ask him if there’s anything I can do to help. The answer: “Nothing really.”

The manager sighs with exasperation because this sequence repeats itself over and over again. Next, the manager starts to exercise more stringent control over this team member. The person gets sick, files a complaint, or both. The manager then takes on the extra work with no resolution in site.

Breaking down the dilemma into smaller parts can lead to a solution

With one manager I coached, we broke the problem and solutions down into 3 parts:

Part 1 – The work: What kind of work does this person do naturally? In other words, what is comfortable for him or her?

How far are you taking this person out of their comfort zone? Sometimes a person can learn to flex and stretch to new requirements and sometimes not. Have you had the deeper conversation about the right fit, or do you just talk about results? 

Part 2 The language: Sometimes we speak in a foreign language and don’t realize it.  The other person may not know what you’re talking about. “I need a strategy with an action plan and measurable outcomes by September 1st.”??!! A specialist who has never done strategy development will usually have no clue about how to write one.

The following questions can help guide your conversation:

  1. What source documents have you considered?
  2. What specific components could be included?
  3. What are the next steps you have in mind?

Part 3 – The person: Usually this person’s personality ends up being the polar opposite of the manager’s. The manager is quiet, this person does everything at full volume; the manager is warm and friendly, this person keeps to himself and rarely steps out of his office; the manager loves to brainstorm and talk of the big picture, and this person prefers to deal with details.

Yet, the expectation remains that the person will somehow adopt the manager’s style.

So how ready are you to stretch outside of your comfort zone as a manager to consider another way of going about things? What would it take to connect with this person in his or her model of the world?

You may want to consider going your separate ways if:

  • you’ve considered all of the above, the impact on you and/or the team, and your end goal;
  • you’ve listened diligently to the other’s needs and given thoughtful consideration to ways in which you can work more effectively together;
  • both of you have stretched and the results are passable at best.

After all, this is a relationship like any other relationship. A bad marriage sometimes can’t be fixed.

I look forward to reading your comments on how you’ve dealt with that certain someone to get things going again.