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Dealing With Disruptive Members of Your Team

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

The Society for the Advancement of Consulting® (SAC) has asked its international membership to report on techniques for dealing with dysfunctional members of management.

"This is a growing problem in high-stress workplaces," reports SAC CEO, Alan Weiss, Ph.D. "The focus is usually on blue collar workers' aberrant behavior, but we're seeing more and more of such behavior among management within our members' clients. To highlight how to handle this delicate problem, we're featuring one of our members most expert in the area.

Dr. Maynard Brusman is a consulting psychologist and executive coach and president of Working Resources, a strategic talent management firm in San Francisco, CA. He specializes in emotionally intelligent leadership development with executives and lawyers. He offers these insights:

Difficult or disruptive members of your management team need to be confronted. It may be possible to work out any conflicts with a trained facilitator or executive coach. However, it must be made clear by the team leader and other members of the team that disruptive behavior is unacceptable. Some members are angry; some are anxious; others are fearful, negative and obstinate. Some may spark frequent disputes with their peers. Still others quietly stonewall and fail to follow through on commitments.

Regardless of the form difficult behavior takes, it exacts a serious toll on productivity and morale. When managers are distracted and frustrated by difficult behaviors, they have less time and energy to devote to their core responsibility: getting things done through others.

Everyone talks about difficult people and personalities, but labeling such individuals shifts attention from what they did to who they are. It's always best to deal with behaviors, rather than personalities-and be as specific as possible. While problem behavior can stem from an innately annoying personality, or, in some cases, even a personality disorder or other mental problems, these issues are beyond what one can expect to change.

The team leader should meet with the disruptive member and confine their discussion to specific behaviors: what was done and/or said. Behaviors and communication patterns are usually clearly identifiable. The situation becomes tricky when intense emotions are triggered. Ultimately, it may that the disruptive individual needs to be removed from the management team and if necessary from the organization.

"You can't sacrifice the organization for an individual," notes Weiss, "and senior management can't have a 'savior complex.' Outstanding leaders make tough decisions for the greater good."

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