Within a few days I received two e-mails asking for help dealing with a team member who was unmotivated and a loner who doesn’t care about the team, doing the minimum required to get by. In one case the person writing to me was a peer of the team member. In the other case, he was the supervisor.

I gave similar advice to both readers. Both situations called for a similar approach that starts with a one-on-one conversation about how his behavior is affecting you and/or the team. Ideally the conversation starts with some kind of link to original objectives/mandates/goals of the organization or team that he has bought into in some way. He may need a few concrete and objective examples of how and where his behavior has hampered progress or created resentment among team members. Expressing how you feel might make sense as long as you focus on your own feelings and aren’t judgmental or making sweeping, broad-brush statements.

The tough part will likely be getting him to acknowledge that there is a problem. It may take more than one meeting or you may need to leave it with him for awhile and come back to the conversation again. Once there is some type of acknowledgement, you’ll need to set out some plan or strategy for making changes, some type of progress indicator(s), and a follow-up/review process.

The keys to these sorts of conversations are:

  • Focus on the behavior, not the person. This can be a tough one. Avoid words like “always” and “never” or global statements that raise defensiveness.
  • Try to understand why he is behaving this way (without becoming his therapist) and what you or the team can do to support him.
  • Try to connect to any personal aspirations or ideals that you know he holds for this work, the team, or the organization.

    Search for a misalignment problem. Is there a way to get him doing work on the team or elsewhere in the organization that might better fit his strengths/interests?
    When faced with these kinds of situations, we have three options:
    1) Work around this individual and minimize him as an obstacle;
    2) Try to move him along or deal with the situation; or
    3) Leave this team or remove the individual from the team.

    The second option takes leadership courage and skill. But some people can’t be reached and ultimately there may be no choice but to revert to the other two options.