Managers at Work
"I'm struggling to keep a project on track for a cross-functional team located all over the country. Now the company is giving us another team member-a 'consultant,' who apparently is a close friend of someone on the senior team. But she is loud, obnoxious and extremely opinionated, takes up valuable meeting time and does absolutely nothing to advance our work. In the meantime, we have deliverables and strict time and budget constraints. How can we utilize whatever experience she has but still set limits? Given her connections in the company, this is very sensitive."
You must feel very stressed and anxious. It's difficult enough to run a team project, make all the deadlines and deliver the required results without an outsider telling you what to do.
"In most cases, adding a team member to a stressed project has more chance of making things worse than improving it; this appears to be such a case," says Tom Kendrick, a consultant in project management and author of a 2011 book, "101 Project Management Problems and How to Solve Them."
Your first impulse, of course, is probably to complain about her and isolate her. But that could work against you and the success of your project. Instead, take some time to figure out what is driving this consultant's behavior.
"Meet with her one-on-one and discuss what is going on," Kendrick suggests. "Some adversarial contributors may be causing problems because of interpersonal reasons, while others may simply feel no support for the project."
If the problem seems to require the establishment of a little more trust, he says, identify some of the things you have in common, such as outside interests, academic backgrounds, hobbies, sports, past projects, likes or dislikes. "You can discuss colleagues that you have in common, especially people for whom you share mutual respect (perhaps including the manager who hired her)," he says.
If the relationship can be built in some way, your project will benefit. To do that may mean re-arranging your time and priorities a little so that you're free to discuss things with her on a one-on-one basis.
Sometimes, though, the issues arise with how the consultant sees the project. "Work to discover why she appears to be working against its best interests," Kendrick says. "Perhaps she really does not understand the project or is unaware of its priorities and value.
"Discussing the project can bring hostile contributors around, especially if you can communicate a compelling vision that shows why the project matters-and emphasize aspects of your project that resonate with her. Connecting your project to what she cares about can go a long way toward converting her from an adversary to a supporter."
If the project as a whole does not win her support, some aspects of it may be attractive to her. Additional opportunities such as training, access to information or new technologies and the ability to be involved in a highly visible project can make a difference, Kendrick says, and can help convert adversaries into productive contributors.
If, despite all your effort, this "consultant" remains difficult to deal with, you can try delegating something to her that does not involve much team interaction, he says. But if you do that, make sure that you receive "ample and frequent information" about progress (or lack of progress) on a one-on-one basis and work on effective methods for escalation if problems occur.
"It is possible to work successfully with unfriendly and argumentative team members, but it's a lot of work and you must constantly guard against having adversarial, negative attitudes damage the morale of the whole team," Kendrick says.
In a situation like this, it is a good idea to have some contingency plans in case poor relationships and lack of progress threaten to derail your project, he says.
If everything else has failed, make sure that the situation with this consultant doesn't derail your career. It is risky, but you may have to find a way to give her feedback on the impact of her behavior.
"That could be enough," says Rick Maurer, a change management consultant and author of several books, including "Feedback Toolkit" and "Why Don't You Want What I Want?"
If it isn't enough, you might begin to state some clear expectations for her and then follow up with her again on a regular basis, he says.
On a project team, the best strategy is not to avoid conflict. "Instead, hash it out," advised Ross Toynbee, director of a training consulting firm in London, who was quoted in a Project Management Institute blog.
Don't let your dislike of confrontation get in the way of doing a great job on this project for the customer, he says. "Once your reputation is soured in the eyes of the customer, that may follow you when you try to get a new job."
Contact Kathleen Driscoll with questions or comments by phone at (585) 249-9295 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org/1/13 (c) 2013 Rochester Business Journal. To obtain permission to reprint this article, call 585-546-8303 or email email@example.com.