Training for Jerks: Five Tactics for Handling Difficult Team Members


Donny - Adventure Time

Managing difficult people on a staff is very challenging and can suck the life out of an otherwise awesome team. Granted, we all have our bad days and can treat each other in less than a civil manner from time to time, but there are those individuals who are habitually difficult and tactless on a daily basis. In other words, a jerk.

The best way to deal with jerks is to simply not have them on your team. One of the most important pieces of advice I’ve learned when hiring is this: fire fast, hire slow. This basically means to get rid of negative elements on your staff quickly while taking thorough time to recruit, screen, and hire new team members. Now this does not mean to simply boot a staffer that has a differing opinion than you or is having some difficulty with the job.

However, this does mean that you should strongly consider terminating someone if they are chronically negative, disrespectful, and ultimately affecting the mission and vision of your organization. Here are some tactics to consider when attempting to manage and train “jerks” that may rear their heads on your team:

1. TEAM RESPECT AS A CULTURAL EXPECTATION – Make it explicitly well known during the recruitment, hiring, and training phases that respect is the #1 hallmark of being a part of your team. Those applicants and / or current team members who do not display respect among others will not be a part of the team. Your team culture should be shared and celebrated; having positive and respectful teammates should be a part of that culture.

2. CONFRONT QUICKLY – Make it a habit to confront “jerk” behavior when it occurs: Confront, document, and educate. The sooner you handle problematic behavior, the quicker you can get back to business as usual. Not only will the offender get back in line, but others on your team will see that you are holding the standard that you have set, which will be appreciated.

3. REWARD “GOOD BEHAVIOR” – Make it a habit to recognize and reward kindness, civility, and generosity. This can occur during team meetings, publicly via social media, or through personal notes and supervisory one-on-one’s. Publicly acknowledging remarkable displays of positive teamwork will go a long way for continually communicating behavioral standards.

4. TEACH CONFLICT “RULES” – Teaching team members how to manage conflict among one another is crucial. Provide mediation and confrontation training so they are equipped with the necessary skills to respectfully handle disputes and differences of opinion among each other. Additionally, give them instructions for how problems are formally mediated per institution policy so they don’t result to making up their own process and making a bad situation worse.

5. CELEBRATE SUCCESS – Be explicit in what team goals will be celebrated. Minimize status differences among your team, and celebrate goals obtained by the entire team. This helps to emphasize the “we live and die as one” message. Celebrations don’t have to be overly fancy or expensive, such as lavish end-of-semester banquets or award ceremonies. Small and simple celebrations can work just as well (and be more economical and meaningful at the same time!) And, to be honest, don’t simply have the obligatory end-of-year bash. Celebrate successes that are related to the vision and mission of your organization and not “just because.”

Artwork courtesy of Chris Szczesiul. Check out his other awesome artwork!

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