Reining in the awkward squad.

We all work in teams of some form. Today’s accountancy practices and finance departments seem to have a love affair with teamwork, to the extent that throwing together a group of individuals and tasking them to combine their energies and resourcefulness is often the stock response when any issue or goal is highlighted.

Whether it is project teams, departmental teams, client teams or even virtual teams, one thing will always be certain. Among the individuals that make up the team members, there will always be at least one person that the team leader finds difficult to manage.

If you want to break this law, you need a knowledge and awareness of the different types of ‘awkward team member’ that you might come across.

Armed with this insight, you can begin to appreciate the real value of these people and this will help you to coordinate their work, coach and appraise them more effectively.

In general, there are six types of awkward team member:

  • the cynic – an individual who can demoralise the team with their constant negative outlook;
  • the fencesitter – someone who procrastinates because they can never take action unless it has been specifically endorsed by another;
  • the rhino – a thick-skinned individual who charges in, often without due consideration for the feelings of others;
  • the headless chicken – somebody who lacks self-control and panics under pressure;
  • the space alien – an individual who, in an attempt to impress others, will never use one word when five will do; and
  • the dumped upon – a soft touch, who lacks the word ‘no’ in their vocabulary and suffers dire consequences.

To deal with these people, try the following.

It is all too easy to let the cynic stand on the sidelines and pour cold water over every new idea. Get them more involved! Use a ‘funnel-down’ technique – ask them what they don’t like, what they would like to see, how they would go about it. Do something positive to ensure some of their suggestions are followed. Cynics are often intelligent individuals who, for whatever reason, feel marginalised. Actively engage them and give them responsibility. Let them use their insight to benefit the team.

The fencesitter is a person worried about putting other people’s noses out of joint if they put their views forward. Try and give what they say as much value as possible (without being patronising) by encouraging them to follow through their words with actions. For example, if they agree with a particular idea put forward at a meeting, ask them to help see it through. This approach may force the fencesitter to jump down and feel the earth beneath their feet.

When the rhino raises its horn everyone wants to run and hide. However, underneath that thick skin can be a highly-motivated and committed team player. Channel that aggression with tasks that will force a rhino to put his/her money where their mouth is. It might also be useful to give them responsibility for coaching or mentoring a less vocal member of the team. Finally, agree a team code of conduct to ensure those horns are kept lowered.

The headless chicken is a creature running around all stressed out by taking on too much work and not knowing where or how to begin. Help them to prioritise. Reassure them that they can refuse a particular task – without letting themselves or the team down. A headless chicken is often someone who doesn’t want to be left out of anything. Use that energy in a focused way by agreeing with them a one-thing-at-a-time policy.

With the space alien be patient! Jargon is often a defence and a barrier people put up to make them seem more important to others. If you ask for clarification on everything they say, it may help them to articulate more clearly. It’s an arduous task, but it could be worth it. They may have some useful ideas. One exercise might be to ask them to prepare a report that has to be understood by people external to the team. Give them some guidance on areas that might be unfocused.

Don’t just give the dumped upon work to do – ask what they would like to do. This approach may throw them, but slowly you might be able to play them to their strengths. These individuals probably have a lifetime’s experience of being dumped upon and it could take time for them to realise they have an element of choice in their workload. Encourage their decision-making process. You may be surprised by their hidden potential.

Team members need clear and agreed objectives and they need to know how their part fits into the whole. As the team leader, you will have to resolve communications issues, areas of conflict, personality clashes and differences of opinion. What is more, you will have to manage commitment and motivation and encourage performance improvement.

Yet before you can do any of that, you need to recognise the diversity of the individuals that make up your team.Teams are comprised of different types of people and if you can appreciate their needs and manage them as individuals in an environment of respect, you will find that person has their place.

Adopting such a mind-set can help you break the universal law of teamwork.

From then on, you will begin to add more value, the team members will be more effective and the team will become more productive.

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