What Should a Manager Do When Employees Are Not Team Players?

Handling Problem Employees

Several managers have relayed stories to us about their employees’ lack of commitment and support for teamwork. Sometimes the employees are relatively new to the organization. More often than not, the employees they are describing have been with the organization or the department for a long time. Either way, when employees do not display behaviors that promote teamwork, there is a problem and the manager needs to address the issue.

Team members do not have to like teamwork. They do not even have to believe that the formation of the team was a good idea. But team members are supposed to do everything that they can, in their particular job, to make the team successful. That is their job.

Recently, we came across an analogy from Price Pritchard, a Dallas-based consultant, which makes a lot of sense. Imagine how long a football player would last if he said something like this, “That sounds like a mighty stupid play to me. The coach is stupid. Why should I help run it? I am not gonna run and block on a play like this one. I am gonna wander over to the sidelines, get me a few sips of Gatorade, take a breather, and watch these other dummies try to score. I’ll go back in when they are running a play I like. They never told me when they signed me up they’d be running this play.”

This sounds absurd, but it is difficult to move a team forward when we have several players moving to the sidelines because they don’t like the manager’s, or the team’s, call. Players like this make it tough to run a business. We encourage managers and supervisors to take a stand and address employees who exhibit behaviors that do not support teamwork.

Using these six tips will help managers and supervisors make a difference in building a high performing team.

Pay close attention. Praise and recognize those members who exhibit positive behaviors that promote teamwork. We also encourage you to coach and counsel team members who exhibit behaviors that undermine teamwork. We do not see teamwork as an option. Managers desperately need each person’s support. Managers and supervisors need people to get on the team and support the team’s decisions.

Face reality! Many managers and supervisors, when they see behaviors that undermine teamwork, make the decision to manage by “hope-and-hint.” When they see negative behaviors undermining teamwork, they hope it will not happen again. When hope fails, they get tougher and drop a hint. Managing by “hope-and-hint” does not work. Sit down with employees and explain that one part of the employees’ job functions is supporting the team. Demand commitment! If and when they are not supporting the team, they are not doing their job to the best of their ability.

Recognize there may be casualties. When organizations change, there are going to be some people who refuse to change and support the team. As a manager, you need to recognize that this is all right and may be a positive thing. Some people will feel so dedicated to the way we used to do things around here, that they will move from one department to another, or entirely quit the organization. Do not let their resistance to change undermine your commitment to teamwork.

Recruit new team members. New team members may help in building stronger teamwork among all team members. One reason new team members may be helpful in building stronger teamwork is they have no vested interest in guarding the past or old way of doing things. They find it beneficial to be focused on the future.

Re-recruit the cream of the crop. If the team does become dysfunctional with team members exhibiting behaviors undermining teamwork, it is important to go to your “stars,” the team members who do support your concepts or programs, and tell them two things. First, tell them how much you value their contributions and the gifts they bring to the team. Second, tell them you need their help in building stronger teamwork among some of the other players. Why do this? Because when the team is under stress, the problem employees never leave. It is your stars who go because they do not like the stress or stigma attached to working on a team that is dysfunctional… and a team where the manager does nothing about dysfunctional employees.

Show your passion. Indicate that you value strong teamwork with a sense of urgency. There is ample research that demonstrates that a slow change process is not anywhere near as successful as a rapid change process. If teamwork is needed, it needs to start today. Waiting for others to get mentally prepared or decide to be a team player wastes time and increases the chances of your proposed change not being fully implemented. Change, and change today!

When team members refuse to do many of the same skills we were taught in kindergarten, remember these six points. They will make a difference in helping you get your team back on track and focused on common goals.

(8) Comments

  1. Great article! I have recently joined a company which has undergone some restructuring and so I am a member of a newly created team. Since I have joined I have discovered that the team was not created with teamwork in mind, it was formed from the staff who remained after the changes. The other team members won’t work together and there is quite a lot of negative feeling in the group. The team leader is not addressing this.

    Do you have any tips on how best to deal with this situation? I feel as if I may have to leave if this problem is not resolved, as you mention in the second to last point.

  2. Alison,

    It is difficult to hold team members accountable for their attitudes regarding teamwork or the new team. Encourage the leader to gain great clarity around what the expectations are for team members, both in the areas of competencies and results. Identify the specific goals and outcomes you need team members to achieve…and the specific timeframe for accomplishment. Then identify what competencies you need from someone in this team. Things like, “shares ideas in meetings that will improve the process or team.” Or, “seeks additional assignments when assigned tasks are completed.” Now you have the ability to hold team members accountable to both competencies and results.

    The tough reality is these team members do not have enough to do. The leader needs to load team members up with expected results and competencies and then hold each team member accountable. If that doesn’t work, coach, counsel, document and if that fails, share the unwilling team members with your best competitor.

  3. Team work is important . I am in a kitchen enviroment. I have an employee who feelsjust barley finishing his job and letting other people pick up his slack is acceptable . Well I am brining him into the office to explain to him the importance of helping each other out and this is a verbal warning . If this is not effective , office again writen writup explaning where he has fallen short and that a 3rd write up would probably mean a suspention wo/pay. and 1 more time would be termination. Jobs are scarce and if someone is making everybopdy elses work more difficult who needs them . there really are alot more p[eople who need the work . so say goodby. My kitchen requires professional types who are what they say they are .qualified cooks . the problem is also the people who hired this person wasn’t qualified to hire for kitchen position.Thanks Chef, H B Bailey

  4. Good article. Do you have an article about reasons a team member may stop being a team player? You mentioned that good team members leave when there is dysfunction due to team members who are not doing their part, but you mention nothing about team players who lose heart because of dysfunctional management that tares down rather than uplifts the team.

  5. Dear Alison Cumper,

    it is clear from what you say that there are negative feelings, primarily attributed to the creation of new team members and old staff.

    In these circustances there are always going to be people who want to push themselves to the front whilst pushing new team members to the back, namely, in the real world this is called backstabbing…

    All the good advice in the world will not stop this, only your knowledge and committement to your work will enable you to shine through above the rest.

    As for teamwork, addressing this is ultimately the managers/ team leaders job, unfortunately, explaining this to team leaders or managers can get you into trouble or earmark you as a troublemaker yourself. Other advice detailed in this column tells you to tell your team leader what to do, well, this will undoubtedly earmark you for a sacking unless you know clearly how to manage a manager…In my experience managers dont appreciate being told how to manage.

    My advice, if the team is already failing from selection of old and new staff that have been brought together and you cannot diplomatically encourage your manager to sort internal issues out the i suggest you find a company that can appreciate your skills, or, go above the managers head (carefully) to help resolve these issues.

    Personally, i think you may need to speak/ memo/ email the boss and discuss with him your better ideas to make an exceptional team for his company.
    In-turn, increasing productivity, reducing sickness and anything else you can manage to discuss with your boss.
    As a manager and boss, i always appreciate honesty, i expect my managers to manage, if they cant then i will find someone who can.

    Hope that helps you.

  6. Good article! Im actually dealing with my team colleagues leaving to other companies and I am left with new members only. How should I motivate the team members to stay, besides salary raise ? Is this a leadership issue ?

    1. Hi Sonia,
      Thanks for connecting. Based on the information you have provided it is difficult to figure out what might be the true cause of employees leaving for another organization. The best approach would be a lot of dialogue with both current and employees who have left the organization to figure out the true cause.

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