This is the 3rd Q&A of a 6 part series on employee motivation and engagement. You might prefer to start with reading the introduction here.
I have just inherited the “hopeless” team of my department. My biggest challenge is that, except for 3 of them, they all have strong and very different personalities. I feel like I am walking on eggshells every time I try to get them to do something. They are constantly going against what I say and some have a hard time getting along together. I know you went through the same situation. Please, what can I do?
Tracy and everyone else out who is in this situation (this one was very popular!); first I want you to do something extremely important. Sit back, take a few deep breaths and make yourself relax. I had a big smile on my face when I received your question. The fact that you are trying, means that you believe they are not “hopeless”. To all the Tracy’s out there, love you for that. Yes, there is hope!!!
Before I get to my answer, I will assume a few things here:
- It is not someone with a mental illness
- It is not someone with a violent or threatening behavior to others
- It is not the workplace bully (verbal abuse, offensive behaviors that are humiliating and intimidating, etc.)
If this is the case, please, it is important to seek more professional help. You must discuss this with your boss and HR as soon as possible.
Here is my “tough love” answer:
Hold on to your seat for this one, having different personalities on the team is a blessing and your key to developing them into a high performance team. Yes, both “good” and “difficult” personality traits, if managed properly, can be utilized to complement each other and lead to synergies. You are probably thinking, “That sounds all nice and pretty, but it’s easier said than done…” I know that’s what it seems like now. I have used this statement many times myself. I realized that these words are meaningless unless backed up with effort and hard work. I will be totally honest with you straight from the start, you are right, it is not easy, and it is very challenging. But, NOT IMPOSSIBLE!!!! It is all a question of asking yourself if you are willing to invest your efforts and take action. As a leader, you are in a position to really make a difference in people’s lives, bring out their best. You must first believe in yourself and truly believe that everyone has a unique talent without judging their personality.
“Great leadership usually starts with a willing heart, a positive attitude, and a desire to make a difference.” — Mac Anderson
Tracy, I did experience the same situation you are in now, not once, but three times! The first time it happened, not knowing anything about the employees, I had a few of my colleagues coming to see me and practically giving me their condolences. “You were given this team because no one else wants to manage them. Don’t waste your energy, just do your work, get your stats and let them be”. These were the words of “encouragement” I received from them. I went home that night, opened a bottle of wine and thought, “what the hell did I get myself into?” Maybe it was the wine, but after a few glasses, I thought, “this is a few people’s opinion, let me make up my own mind. I will get to know these so called “monsters” and see what they have to offer.” Within three months, they became the highest performing team within the department!
Definitely not easy! The great news is that if you are really passionate about it and put in the energy, in the long run, you will have a blast working with your employees. I would not have changed one single personality on any of the three teams. Each one of them, in their own special and unique way, contributed to the success of the team and the company’s goal.
How Do You Manage Team Personality Diversity?
The most important part of being a leader is maintaining the desire to keep on learning. That means learning about yourself, about your peers, and about the people you serve.” — Brian Koval
Before trying to manage different personalities on your team, you need to have an understanding of your own personality. The way you respond to a given situation or to people in your surroundings make up your personality-the way you are. Having awareness and understanding of it will allow you to visualize the effect your personality has on others and make you focus on utilizing your strengths to bring out the best in them. Sometimes, it is our own personality getting in our way of interacting with others. It is not to say that there are “good” or “bad” personality traits. If you have a clear understanding of your own, you will bring in the side of you that is most effective and suitable depending on the individual.
Understanding Your Employees
The key is to know and understand the core of each one of their personalities. In doing so, you will be able to adapt to their personality when communicating with them and focus on the strength that is probably buried inside each individual. This will lead you to have a clearer vision of the team, how each strength can complement one another to enhance creativity and will make you take better decisions to delegate responsibilities. There are many templates available defining different personalities based on colors, favorite animals, favorite type of music, etc. Use them as a source of information to familiarize yourself with different types of personalities. Do not assume or label their personality based on a template. It may end up working against you. It is important to get to know your employee personally. The best way to do this is by asking quality questions to clarify the reasons behind their actions, behaviors and words. Get all the facts. It is very possible that employees’ actions are based on:
- Bad memories of how they were treated by previous leaders
- Lack of information or training to do their work
- Favoritism with one or two employees by previous leaders
- Evaluations that encouraged competition among each other
- Low self-esteem. Just to name a few
Remember this: your employees probably spend more time together than with their families. Expect some level of conflict from time to time. It is not necessarily a bad thing.
All strong healthy relationships have their share of arguments and disagreements.
Think about it, what couple has never argued? What two siblings didn’t pull each other’s hair at some point? What two friends didn’t disappoint each other? Different perspectives and view points are the foundation of a high performance team. The only way to achieve this is by having and embracing different personalities on your team. I’ll tell you something else, if everyone was the same, thought the same, shared the same opinions, you would be bored out of your mind! Conflict can actually strengthen bond between the team and develop problem solving skills among each individual while exposing their creativity. In order for conflict to be constructive, it must be managed and dealt with by respecting people’s difference of opinions and ideas with an open mind. Set the example, welcome open communication allowing an exchange of ideas where everyone shares their concerns, their beliefs and the information supporting their concerns and beliefs. This exercise alone is a huge step in resolving conflicts on the team. It helps the team gain an understanding of the different viewpoints and focus on the facts to come up with creative solutions and agreement without the emotional attachment. Create a culture where employees recognize and understand that their different personalities and point of views are made up of each other’s individual strength. By respecting each other’s differences and considering the facts, they can collaborate using their individual strengths to achieve break through results.
“The task of leadership is not to put greatness into people, but to elicit it, for the greatness is there already.” — John Buchan
It is important to set objectives and expectations that are aligned with your vision of the team and the company’s. Make sure everyone clearly understands your expectations of them. Once you have identified their individual strength, work out a plan with each employee to utilize and exceed their value within the team. The best way to do this is to allow for some autonomy, give them liberty to develop their own way of meeting that expectation and completing projects. At the same time, incorporate an indicator to evaluate their collaboration. If someone on the team contributed to their colleague’s success, recognize it. The same applies for someone who proactively asked a colleague and promoted their strength to completing a project. Two things will happen if you do this:
- Increase motivation and engagement both individually and together as a team
- Create opportunities for them to develop their strengths and grow
It will never be perfect, you will make mistakes and so will your employees. Perfection is a means to an end to learning and trying new things. Mistakes are part of progressing, there is no end to that. If you want your team to succeed, allow them and yourself to make mistakes. Trying to avoid mistakes stops people from learning and reaching their full potential. Your actions, behavior and words will set an example and will determine the performance of your team.
“Example is not the main thing in influencing others, it is the only thing.” — Albert Schweitzer
Please, Share any suggestions that I have not mentioned that has had a positive outcome in your role as a leader. Even if your role is not within the workplace, we can all learn and grow from you.
The full Q&A series are:
- Transition From Employee to Team Leader
- Getting Employees to Listen to You
- Managing Different Personalities in a Team
- Telling an Employee They’re not Ready for a Promotion
- Keeping Employees Motivated During Downsizing