Top Performer Misbehaving

Question to Ask the Workplace Doctors about inappropriate behavior of top performer

A top performer in my team misbehaves a lot in meetings. Also at times, he doesn’t follow orders. Even though I have given him several warnings, he has still not changed his attitude. I do not want to throw him out as his numbers help me a lot, but his behavior gives a wrong signal to the other team members who are also starting to behave in the same way. Please suggest.

Signed, Manager

Dear Manager:

Let’s reword your question and change your title to coach: You have a player, who makes more points than other players, but sometimes doesn’t follow your game plan. You have given him warnings, but his attitude has not changed and the other players are beginning to behave in the same troublesome way as your star.

Coach, what can you do to shape up this star? You can assign him to do push ups or extra laps if he is rude to other players or to you. You can put him on end of the bench. You can take him out of starting position and let him wonder why. If he continues to not follow your instruction during practices, you can suspend him for a game or two. You might lose some games, but to put him back in so long as he is defiant and ignores your game plan would teach him he was indispensable. To cave in is to allow him to win.

Is this the kind of advice that would make sense for you, coach? Possibly. Or might there be another approach, coach? In the past, have your skull sessions mainly been you talking and giving orders? Have the times you met been only on problems? Have they been dull and lacking spirit? Could you begin to have regular skull sessions that are engaging? The central questions for making a skull session engaging are: What would you like to achieve this season? What do we want to feel good about during the next several games? Then after each game, a skull session could begin with: What did we do well together as a team since the last time we met and how is that on track for us reaching our big goal?

Wording questions this way enables the players to hone in on specifics and to think positively. Coach, it is important to encourage participation from all players. As a coach you too can point up specific acts that you liked, such how one player passed off to another or praised another who did something well. The follow up question can also be stated positively: What might we do differently what would make us play better together as a team?

You must decide whether bossing or coaching apply to your work group? With respect to your top producer, you already have taken action and now you must decide how you will follow through. To use your words, what do you find in your top performer is “misbehavior in a lot of meetings”? Does he talk too much, interrupt, put down you or others, block, talk rudely, clown, not listen, sneer, fail to rigorously join in as a problem solver, withdraw, and/or not follow through on orders?

As boss, and I assume you are his boss because you have given him warnings, you need to be able to describe the kinds of acts that you see as misbehavior both in and out of meetings. And if you chose to warn, regardless of big numbers, you must know what disciplinary steps you will take if your warnings are ignored.

Confronting him in a private behavior/performance coaching session ideally is collaboratively problem solving. Probably your company has a policy about how warnings and discipline are to be carried out. Perhaps misbehavior can be better addressed by making your meetings more meaningful and communicatively effective. Have you analyzed your meetings? How often do you meet? When? Where? For what reason? Are they too short or long? What is the agenda and who makes them and how do well is an agenda followed? Are they really skull sessions? What is their tone? Are they downers? What would make them more efficient, effective, exciting and enjoyable?

A candid look at the when, how and why of meetings might make them better.Most meetings have problems and can be managed more effectively? The very act of inviting a group to discuss what goes on in their meetings can positively impact how they can function more effectively. Have you ever done that? I have seen conversations on what might make our meetings more effective result in making a staff meeting move more efficiently and effectively.

An even more instructive training technique is to audio or video tape a couple of meetings and then to have a facilitator guide a group listening/observing a playback. A group can thereby see what makes for dysfunction and what roles and rules might make for more effective participation. Effective leaders both propose and enlist items that should be on a work group’s agenda. They help a group stay on topic. They encourage opinion and contribution of information from all; they stop rude interruption; and they encourage raising questions that test their own and others information and proposals.

From time to time, leaders sum up what the group has been saying and they check to learn if there is general agreement on that. Disagreements are clarified and not smoothed over. Alternative solutions are sought. Downside and possible scenarios are considered. Rigor and vigor are the rule. Implementation costs and commitments are weighed. Follow up expectations are stated.

All in all, an effective leader shares the leadership role and sees his/her role as one of guiding a process. Professor Chris Argyris found taping and playback to help work groups self-assess how they behaved in meetings and to be revealing and educative. He also proposed 10 indicators that of teamwork: · Contributions are additive · There a sense of team spirit · Decisions are made by consensus · Commitment to decisions is strong · The team continuously evaluates itself · The teams is clear about its goals · Conflict is dealt with openly · Alternative solutions are generated · Leadership goes to the best qualified · Feelings are dealt with openly On a scale ranging from Never to Always, group members can profile to what degree they function as a team.

The most important of these, in my opinion, that enables a team to work effectively is: The team continuously evaluates itself. To apply this indicator to your situation, you could make it a regular practice to set aside time in skull sessions to address the question: How well are we communicating and working together as a team?

Do these thoughts and suggestions help you answer your own question? Do they prompt you to think though how to deal with on-the-spot misbehavior in a meeting? Do they provide steps you might initiate to empower your work group to see itself as a team and to realize working as a team is an on-going process? Someone once said, there is no I in TEAM. That is clever but not even true for teams that perform at maximum effectiveness. Team means Together Everyone Achieves More, only when and if team members communicate and work constructively. That’s what I mean when I sign off with Working together with hands, head, and heart takes and makes big WEGOS. I am interested to learn if any of this makes sense for your situation. After a few weeks, if you can make time to do so, send a note to say what you do and what does and doesn’t work.

William Gorden