How Can We Deal With A Reluctant Team Member?

Question to Ask the Workplace Doctors about a team member who resists change What can we do to get our co-worker to work with us?

My team has a co-worker who is setting himself apart from us. He has been with the team the longest (15 years) and is resisting the changes that our professor is implementing. Other issues are that there is a new younger male team member who is very personable and has turned into a driving force to implement the changes our professor has requested. The dean of our college has also told us that we must make these changes and our co-worker still insists on resisting these changes. The dean and our professor are women. He is the only member of the team who is resisting changes; the rest of the team is interested and excited about the changes. What can we do to get our co-worker to work with us?

Signed, Lacking Team Unity

Dear Lacking Team Unity:

This is a classic team problem, one that turns up more often than people realize. I talked about this exact situation in my book, The Teamwork Chronicles. Part of what you observed is resistance to change, perhaps because the member has been there the longest and change may be harder for him. Another area relates to how the changes were discussed and planned. Was everyone involved in the decision of was it just given? Were the reasons and needs for the change stated and clear to everyone? In other words was the process a collaborative team-oriented one or a commanded one?

Often, team members are left out of decisions regarding changes and policies. They are ordered to do something that can cause resistance. Think of a parent/child relationship. Most people rebel, even as adults, when “ordered” to do something if they don’t see the value or purpose themselves. People often pull away when they feel left out.As to what to do, here are some ideas:

1. Is there a mission or vision statement for the team? That can help establish the purpose and goals, although many teams and organizations lack these important statements. Also, review the reasons why the changes are important and necessary with this member. Who does this co-worker respect the most? That might be the most effective person to do it. They could ask this co-worker why he isn’t on board or embracing the changes. Maybe it means more work for him or less authority. His perspective needs to be considered if it hasn’t been already. How do the changes affect his situation? He might have some fears or worries if the changes are made. Try to learn his reasons and perspective. He might need some assurance that he’s an important member of the team and his input is valued.

2. If none of those approaches are working, maybe he just won’t get on board and is more set in his ways. Is there another area or team he could work? Maybe it’s related to the management structure and friction there and he could answer to another person. Has anyone asked him what he wants or what he is after? The goal is to bring him back into the process, or find a way to use him elsewhere. One of those should be workable with some TLC and communication to find out what he needs that he isn’t getting.I hope these suggestions are helpful. Let us know how things work out. WEGO is using teamwork to communicate our needs and build bridges.

Steven H. Carney, Guest Respondent