Managing an “untouchable” worker

Caroline Mboijana, Managing Director, The Leadership Team (U). 

Dear Caroline,  I am a manager and lead a team of eight. I have worked my way up and take time to self-learn for my leadership development and growth. My team performs well; they deliver on time and generally work well with other teams. Like all team members, they all bring strengths to the table, and the majority are open to addressing their weaknesses. 

As common with all organisations, there is a subculture where some staff are  ‘untouchable’. I have one such team member whose behaviour is borderline toxic; they know they are ‘protected’, and as a result, their attitude and entitlement are causing friction within the group. I have tried to address this with my supervisor, but unfortunately they are the protector. How do I deal with this situation  which is now negatively impacting the team. 

Hello Ronald, this is probably the worst situation for a manager.  However, since you are leading a performing team, you can influence the situation in several ways. You could consider facilitating a team building session – this could be offsite and facilitated by a 3rd party.  It is common to think and view performance as delivering “what I do”, which is technical competence delivery. Remember that performance also looks at “how it is” delivered and the behaviour exhibited while providing what is critical. We call this behavioural competence delivery.  So, the team-building can be a platform to educate the team on performance; they can also agree on the “ground rules” of acceptable behaviour for the team, almost having a “code of conduct”. 

It is well known that all employees will follow the company’s code of conduct, but even within teams, a sub-culture brings the team together. The team then owns this behaviour, and anyone who behaves to the contrary is managed. Hopefully, this process will provide an open platform for staff to give each other feedback without backlash.

Another way you can address the situation is through the performance management system and specifically working with 360-degree feedback. In this system, all members receive feedback on their performance, and performance looks at technical and behavioural delivery. This feedback can then be used to inform us of your issues. The assumption is that those giving feedback will be honest.

An alternative and more direct approach is regular discussions with team members about their behaviour. These sessions are important, and while discussing, please make sure you have concrete examples to show them how their behaviour impacts the team. Be careful how you package the feedback; remember to focus on “saying what you want and not what you do not want” so the person is focused on what needs to be achieved.

Regarding the management of the supervisor who has been shunned from supporting you, taking the above evidence to demonstrate your concerns is the first step. If this does not gain results, then your next area of support is the Human Resources Department who should be taken through your concerns and they can guide the best way forward. Managing this team player takes time. Good luck

Caroline Mboijana,
Managing Director, The Leadership Team (U)  [email protected]