Q. As a project manager, I’m having difficulty with a very disruptive team member. “Donald” argues about everything and sends insulting emails to anyone who disagrees with him. He is extremely critical and makes frequent derogatory remarks about his colleagues’ contributions. Ironically, his own work is consistently mediocre.
Donald often refers to this project as a complete waste of time. He skips many meetings and refuses to help implement any decision with which he disagrees. His lack of participation has increased the workload for everyone else. Whenever I bring up these issues, Donald just ignores me.
This is a cross-functional team with members from different departments, so no one reports directly to me. When I talked with Donald’s boss, he said I should “learn to live with it,” because Donald is a long-term employee with friends in senior management. What can I do about this?
A. You are not alone in your frustration, because project management can be extremely challenging. Although project managers are responsible for delivering results, they typically have no authority over those doing the work. This combination can create a lot of difficulties.
An effective project team requires members who can deliver quality work and develop collaborative relationships. Given that Donald is apparently doing neither, the ideal solution would be to remove him from the team altogether. But since you can’t make that decision unilaterally, you must talk with the manager who has overall responsibility for this project.
For example: “I need to let you know that Donald is seriously interfering with the work of our team. He has no interest in the project and constantly complains that it’s a waste of time. He refuses to do many tasks and is very insulting to other team members. Since he clearly doesn’t want to participate, I would like to remove him from the group.”
Depending on your organization’s structure and political climate, you may need to involve other managers in this decision. But if you make your case strongly enough, you will hopefully be allowed to oust this troublemaker and find a more productive replacement.
Q. My manager and I are supposed to have lunch when he returns from vacation next week. He was recently promoted from a sales position, and I just joined the company last month, so we are both new to our jobs. I’m hoping to make a good impression, but I can’t think of much to talk about. Do you have any suggestions?
A. The best way to initiate conversation is by asking appropriate questions. As a brand new employee, you undoubtedly have a lot to learn about your job, your colleagues and the company. Since most managers enjoy discussing business, your boss should be glad to provide that information.
If your manager is a sociable type, you might also inquire about family, hobbies, his recent vacation or anything else that is not too personal. Actually, though, you may not have much to worry about. Because salespeople tend to be very outgoing, getting them to start talking is often easier than getting them to stop.
Marie G. McIntyre is a workplace coach and the author of “Secrets to Winning at Office Politics.”