Handle Tricky Team Projects With Ease

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Navigating a team project at work can be tricky business. Each team member brings a unique perspective and set of skills to the table. But along with all those skills comes a parade of personalities and agendas.

My 8th-grade daughter recently had a group science project at school, giving me a glaring reminder of all that can happen when group dynamics and social immaturity face off. Her complaints started almost immediately. One group member was trying to make all the decisions — demanding that her ideas were best. A week into the project, there was discussion about a second team member who sounded equally annoyed with the demanding teammate. (Lines were being drawn and sides taken.) Another week passed, and the final phase of the project (and its accompanying social dynamics). The demanding classmate is not following through on tasks she’s assigned to herself. (Not surprisingly, even though we’ve discussed this project many times, I have no idea what the topic is … seems the purpose has faded in all that budding teamwork.)

Thankfully, the business world is not filled with 13-year-olds. Even so, her experience reminded me that team projects can be easily thrown off course because of personality conflicts and bad communication. Here are two difficult team scenarios and how to handle them.

  1. Teammate Who’s Slacking Off. If you’re working on a project and one of your team members isn’t pulling his or her weight, it can be very frustrating. You work late. They leave on time. You’re buried at work in an effort to hit the deadline. They spend a lot of time chatting with co-workers or surfing the Web. You’ve always enjoyed this fun-loving person until the burden you’re supposed to be sharing seems to have landed largely on your back. What should you do?
  2. Teammate Who’s Taking Over. When one person on a team tries to take over, where’s the rub? Your burden is lighter, your workload easier. But as the project evolves, you find you don’t agree with the direction … and you certainly don’t want to be responsible for the outcome. You were made part of this team for a reason, and the input you’re NOT giving will affect the project. What should you do?

Most people have trouble confronting a coworker. Whether it’s conflict avoidance or simply not wanting to seem petty, most employees choose to just dig in and get through. But this annoyance can build and you could eventually lose your cool. And that blowup leaves you looking unprofessional.

The Advice: Schedule a time to talk with your coworker in private about the project. Be sure you’re calm when you meet. Stick to the facts during your discussion, and remember the objective is to find a way to work together that you both agree on. For a slacker, say something like, ”I understood that I would be handling this aspect of the project, and you’d be doing that …?” There’s a possibility that your colleague simply doesn’t know how to do the work, or there may be other issues affecting their work. (You’ll never know unless you begin the discussion.) For the takeover teammate, suggest a new way of dividing responsibility. Talk about what you bring to the table, and what portion of the project you would like to handle. Say something like, “I’d like to handle everything related to ….” If he or she doesn’t agree with this suggestion, ask what split he or she would prefer. Experts advise involving the boss when your attempts at discussion go nowhere — when a slacker is really just lazy and the takeover teammate is really just grandstanding.

Talking one-on-one with a teammate when your group isn’t functioning the way you’d like will help you chart a new course. It opens the door for a better functioning team. It keeps you from getting frustrated. And hopefully it leads to the best outcome for your team project — where the project itself, rather than the players involved, takes center stage.


Agree? Disagree? Add your insightful comments here.