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Section 16  Common Profiles of Difficult Team Members

             There are many profiles that produce difficult team members and situations, listed below are a few to review with strategies that may prove to be helpful:

Passive-Aggressive Team Member 

 You know the type, the team member who always does what is asked, seems eager to help, never raises his or her voice and never even complains. But, an important part of the project or assignment never gets done. He or she always has an excuse, and after the third time, your blood begins to boil!

 This team member is passive in that they don’t speak out openly and aggressive because the anger needs to come out somehow. It’s the “somehow” that becomes the problem.

 The individual can undermine performance in a way that’s so indirect that it becomes impossible to hold they accountable. Tactics may include withholding information, being chronically late or otherwise failing to meet the team’s expectation. Passive-aggressive team members are also good at deflecting anger because they are afraid of it. They often can’t understand why everyone is so angry with them.

 Instead of fuming and raging, team members can learn to recognize passive-aggressive behaviors and then take control. Keep in mind that nearly everyone is passive-aggressive once in a while. Examples might include, neglecting to return a phone call, procrastination, or making promises that are not kept. And thanks to downsizing it seems that in many organizations, passive-aggressive behavior may be on the rise.

Some strategies that the team might use in dealing with passive-aggressive team members would be to create a list of expectations for the project or assignment. Not meeting expectations is what a passive-aggressive individual thrives on, but when you give him or her a clear a d detailed list, it’s harder for the person not to have known what was expected. Another approach is to break assignments down into small pieces, give each part an absolute deadline and check on its completion.

 Laying out team consequences and deciding exactly what you can enforce is another way to deal with the passive-aggressive team member. An example would be to say, “if you can’t meet the deadline on the standards project, you won’t be listed in the summary to administration.” Unless the team can see some improvement, don’t set the team up for failure by relying on this person in critical situations.

A passive-aggressive team member may have a useful message. This behavior gets worse when team members feel that have no other safe option for expressing disagreement. Make it easy for them to tell the team when something is troubling them or an issue is unresolved.

      And lastly, look for patterns with this team member. Is the problem chronic or temporary? Some team members may use passive-aggressive behavior as a coping mechanism but others use it to constantly undermine colleagues. Does he or she constantly procrastinate or work at a snail’s pace.  

The New Guy or Gal  

              A new junior member just joins your team. He or she is excited to be there but not exactly sure what needs to be done. This individual usually has tons of commitment, but few skills. They may need more than the usual guidance, feedback and praise since they may not know much about team membership or what is expected.

              An informal mentor or preceptor will be the best strategy for this new guy or gal. They can then be shown the ropes, develop confidence and have an active sounding board to bring problems to.


              This team member knows what they are doing but waffles in and out of enthusiasm. They are usually skilled, but not committed. They do great work on assignments they like but practically ignore others they don’t like. In trying to get him or her 100% committed to the team effort it is important to get them the resources they need to get the job done, recognizing their efforts and matching interests and responsibilities, when possible.

               Another approach might be to assign them to a part of a team project, knowing they would not want to embarrass him or her by letting down the team. Also, giving them high quality public praise may motive them to do more of the same. 

The team “star”  

              This individual needs little guidance, time or detailed instruction. They are skilled, committed, enthusiastic and passionate. Several strategies that might work include to them encouragement and make a few course corrections if they get sidetracked.

              Two pitfalls to watch out for include making sure the star is constantly challenged and recognized so they won’t get bored and look for opportunities outside of the team. Another is to make sure not to get lulled into the idea that they are doing so well on projects or assignments that they never need checkpoints or face accountability.

Sherman tank 

 The least refined of the team member’s move over the team landscape like Sherman Tanks over the plains! Having battened down their hatches, they are insensitive to any team members feelings other than their own. Abusive, abrupt, and intimidating, blazing away arrogantly at personality and behavior, they can really charge down hard on other team members.

They can be mean and vicious to team member’s as their style is overwhelming. This tremendous show of power can confuse team members into a state of enraged tears or helplessness.

Sherman tanks act out a strong need to prove to themselves and others that their view of the world is right. Any time the situation deviates from their worldview, they complain because they believe that the team must fix the problem.

Uncertain of their own worth, they often demean other team members to feel a sense of superiority. They may project the feeling that “if you are weak, I am strong.” Since they do not understand how their over-aggressive behavior affects other steam members, they usually achieve their short-term objective at the sacrifice of long-term relationships.

What strategies can disarm the Sherman tanks? First, keep in mind that tanks burn enormous amounts of fuel fast! Crying, arguing with, or attacking the Sherman tank refuels their energies. So does performing before a crowd. Therefore, give them time to run down. Just let them verbally run out of gas, especially if other team members are present.

If they get out of control, say their name loudly. Walk to a place where other team members cannot hear what they are saying. They will follow you, they are usually so busy screaming that they can be led anywhere. If possible, sit down. Individuals are less aggressive when seated. If they refuse to sit, maintain eye-to-eye contact. Hold your ground until you can state your point of view.

Sherman tanks have so deep a need to be accepted if you do not humiliate them, they will even make friendly conversation at the end of a confrontation. No matter how hard it is to listen. That gesture means you have gained their respect. It means you have won.  

Overly competitive team member  

Many times when a team member is overly competitive, it’s because they are insecure. They believe deep down that you’re better than they are. The only way they can feel okay is to compete fiercely.

Often overly competitive team members are idea stealers, they want to get credit for achievements and it does not matter who they belong to. An example would be a meeting in progress and your overly competitive team member begins to dominate the discussion and then presents your ideas as theirs. Most individuals in this situation will either sit quietly and fester, or they’ll go on the attack.

A better strategy is to let your overly competitive team member finish, and then say that you are pleased your idea was so good and that she or he was willing to present it and even attach his or her name to it! Then, thank him or her for the compliment. If you have the courage to do this, you’ll be on the road to quickly taking the steam out of your competitor. Talking to the person in private is just not effective.

On an individual level, if you are having trouble with a competitive colleague or team member, don’t smolder over it. Often, individuals simply are not aware of the impact of their behavior. It’s important to be direct with your team member about what’s upsetting you, but put it positively. An example would be to say, “I admire the way you accomplish these things, but some things you do are getting in the way of my work and making me feel uncomfortable.” Pinpoint your complaint.

 Be specific about time, event, situation, behavior and effect. Suggest a solution. Bringing up issues usually clears the air, or at least leaves you feeling that you’ve done all you can. If the team member doesn’t make any effort to change, then probably all you can do is stay out of the way! Your overly competitive peer will probably burn out.

On a group level within a team the team leader often may say that they don’t like overly competitive behavior because it’s detrimental to the groups morale and productivity, yet they often reward competitive team members with extra attention.

 In order to get the group working cooperatively, a strategy might be to assign projects within the team to get the group working together and define acceptable behavior. Another approach would be to ask team members what they feel is acceptable behavior.

The more a particular team cooperates and the less it competes, the better it is. But be careful, sometime what looks like a cooperative team effort may be an effort to cover up poor performance. When this occurs, it’s often a super-competitive person who can really light a fire, because that team member sees that a group team effort can always do better.

A final strategy is to learn as much as you can from competitive people! Take credit for all you do, but be your own PR agent. It’s also a good idea to be a PR agent for other team members on your team. This definitely sets an example of cooperation. 


Another hostile aggressive type is more skilled at targeting victims than Sherman Tanks are. Usually with smiles on their faces, they take pot shots at team members with carefully aimed innuendos, digs and nonplayful teasing. One of the ways that some team members encounter snipers is during a team report or summary presentation. Here, they depend on social rituals to protect them from retaliation. They may use the team members respect for keeping the peace on the team in order to keep you quiet.

Snipers accompany a strong sense of how others should think and act with unrealistic expectations of other individuals. However, they usually have 100 excuses for their own shortcomings, and they even attack someone else whenever they feel threatened.

The best sniper strategy is to refuse to be attacked indirectly. Whenever they attack you, one-by-one or in a group, bring the issue out in the open. Confront the sniper immediately. Demand clarification. An example might be, “what do you mean by that statement or could you please explain?” If a sniper persists, turn to the group and ask if anyone else feels that way. If there is a real problem, let the sniper know you will take action if they do not communicate to you appropriately. 


These malcontents string “ands” and “buts” in mournful litanies of endless needs and deficiencies. They shine, sing-song, and find fault with everything. They keep warning you about something that has gone wrong with their world.

The complaining team member usually regard themselves as powerless to manage their working lives and they also feel that problems are beyond their control to solve. They want you to fix it for them, not usually with them. They usually do point out real problems, but they do it in a way that irritates other team members.

Sometimes all the constant complainer needs is someone who will listen. Do not allow complainers to dwell on past grievances, interrupt then once you have the main idea. Acknowledge that you understand by paraphrasing the main points. Don’t remain silent if you disagree with them, but keep to the facts and don’t become defensive.

Even though complainers want you to play “Mr or Ms Fixit” switch them on to taking a share in solving the problem. Tell the complainer what can or can’t be realistically done. Analyze the situation with them and work on a list of solutions. Focus on one of them, articulate a plan and follow up. Expect some frustration, remember that complainers want you to do it all.  


                During team planning sessions, these deceptively agreeable team members lead you on with hints and vague references to problems that various options raise. They may also agree with the teams plan only to let the team down by doing nothing to realize them. Later, when no action has been taken, they may listen sympathetically to your frustration and pleasantly point out complications which have kept them from completing the assignment or project.

Carrying out decisions distributes resources, which are often tied to other tem members’ wants and hopes. This situation poses a terrible dilemma for Stallers. However they decide, one or more team members may not like the decision.

Since they do not want to hurt anyone, they don’t do anything. They may claim to value what is “right” over what is “expedient.” Putting quality over quantity. So, the staller sits on plans and doesn’t do anything until making the choice is no longer an option.

            Strategies for stallers include helping them to come to grips with a specific problem once it is out in the open. If this approach is used, acknowledge your weaknesses in an unemotional way to win their confidence before refocusing their attention on the matter at hand. If the problem is not with you, have the staller describe it in detail, rank order possible solutions, and reduce the number of feasible alternatives.

 This way everyone’s wishes are recognized. The process makes the choices and the stallers don’t have to. Point out the preferred alternatives’ best qualities, then link it to the beneficial outcome for the team, or anyone else the staller may feel is important. Always follow up to prevent the staller’ second thoughts from taking control and to reinforce the decision.

            A final approach with stallers is to end conversations with supportive statements as, “you have done the right thing or made the right decision.” Give the stallers a time frame in which the action will be carried out. Keep monitoring the situation until the decision has been implemented. This effort may take some time but if used effectively can convert the difficult staller from being part of the problem to becoming part of the solution. 


            These know-it-alls radiate personal authority. Through, accurate thinkers, they are usually competent and highly productive. However, they do not encourage other team members’ suggestions or judgments. Rather, they are condescending and often, to add insult to injury, they are usually right! This humiliates the team members around them and they quickly become angry and immobilized.

            Once bulldozers make up their mind, they are usually hard to dissuade, even if they are wrong. They see situations as win/lose or right/wrong.

            The bulldozers security rests in knowing the facts and understanding how they fit together. They believe that they can control all pertinent factors and that fate is irrelevant.

To keep bulldozers from burying you under their command, do your homework and come prepared. Do not use rough estimates. These team members do not want to brainstorm and most often want exact answers. If team members are unspecific or unprepared, they will dismiss you as incompetent.

            Take the offensive with the bulldozers by giving them feasible alternatives. Get them to consider the consequences and contingencies. Suggested statements such as, “What if we did it your way and this happened” or “What would happen under these circumstances?” might be tried. 


                These naysayers have over one hundred reasons why it can’t be done or why it won’t work. They have a habit of tapping the potential for despair in all of us. These team members usually have unresolved childhood issues and problems that have not been dealt with.

They can bring down the morale of the team and their negativity can spread like a virus. While they like to be the center of attention, they feel powerless. They believe there are numerous barriers that cannot be overcome.

So why does these team members get stuck in a negative rut? Often, it is their perceptions, or how their brain reads certain stimuli and triggers a negative reaction. They may take things said and done way too personally. And then there are the personal beliefs that a negative person has, they are usually very rigid. The less rigid one is in their beliefs, the easier it is to change negative habits.

Traveling negativity or unloading the baggage from home to work can also become an issue. These team members then unload at team staff meetings and bring self-imposed limitations on their own happiness, joy and fulfillment for themselves and those around them. They convince themselves that they can’t have what they want so they sabotage dreams, wishes and desires of team members.

            What a challenge to cope with these skeptical team members! But it is possible. Demonstrate your own realistic optimism while you acknowledge your own vulnerabilities. It’s possible to acknowledge what they are saying without agreeing with them. It will take some time and energy, but another option is to reeducate the negative expert. It will start with insisting that he or she be very specific in every criticism. This gives you a basis to strengthen plans that are weak and then devote more energy to the difficult tasks. After the team member has achieved a positive resolution it is much more difficult to maintain a negative stance.

Strategies in dealing with these negative individuals also include exploring alternative solutions and letting them articulate what the worst consequence could be. Take negative statements as useful warnings but avoid getting drawn in by using realistic optimism. Plan to avoid he negaholic and be prepared to take the appropriate action by yourself, if needed.  


            These team members can be maddenly difficult and react to any disagreeable situation by closing down. They respond with one word statements like, yep, nope, or nothing at all when you need their perspective, ideas, or opinions. They use silence as an offensive, as well as a defensive weapon.

            For some unresponsive team members, being quiet is a way to avoid revealing themselves or their fears. It may even be a way to remain safe. For others, silence is calculated aggression. Clamming up becomes a way to hurt other team members by denying them access to desired information and by inferring they distrust how you use it.

            The clams may display body language cues like frowning, folded arms, staring or glaring. A specific strategy may be to maintain a friendly, open facial expression. Focus your eyes on their mouth or chin which is less threatening that direct eye-to-eye contact. Asking open-ended questions is also a good approach.

            For the clams be prepared to prolong your silence past the point of your own discomfort. Then try an open-ended question like, “Could you tell me where the problem is?” or “Could you tell me how you feel about this?” Then return to you friendly silent state. If this does not work, ask a question you know they can answer comfortably. Set a time limit to reinforce your expectation that they will respond, such as, “I’ve allowed 30 minutes for you to respond.” Be patient, the calms may not open up until the last 10 minutes of the allotted time.

            If the clam opens up, be an attentive, active listener. Nod your head, paraphrase back what you think you heard. Be patient, the initial conversation may not appear related to the topic you want to discuss as it may take the clam a while to come around to your point of view. 


                Ranging in character from braggarts to tyrants, these know-it-alls are indeed full of hot air. They have a habit of collecting bits and pieces of information from all kinds of sources and they pontificate on subjects they really know little about. They do not intend to deceive anyone and really believe they speak with authority.

Balloons are really very curious individuals who want to be “in the know.” Some may even consider them “nosey.” They have an overwhelming desire to be liked and have a high need for others’ admiration and respect. Balloons like to be seen as very important people. They are usually harmless persons once you understand that they are not all experts! No one has confronted them with reality, so they presume that they have spoken the truth.

Strategies for balloons include stating the facts as an alternative version when you are along with the balloon. This gives them an out. Be prepared to intervene if you are truly the expert, especially in the interest of patient care or safety.  


                These team members usually begin the conversation is a friendly pleasant enough manner, then suddenly break into a temper tantrum to get their way. Because your guard may be down and you are not ready for an attack, this tactic can be very effective. Exploder’s tantrums are attempts to regain control of situations which make them feel in harm’s way.

            Others may describe them as overemotional, super sensitive and irritable. Unable to articulate just why they feel threatened, their initial impulse is to become angry, to suspect or blame other team members.

            To effectively deal with the exploders it is important to find out what characteristics or behaviors, in yourself and others, make the exploder feel endangered. If you can, avoid the identified behaviors in the presence of that individual. Once they do explode however, they need time to vent their fears and misgivings, even if they seem to go on forever.

            If the exploder does not run down in a reasonable amount of time, interrupt them quietly and call a halt. Calling for a time out, intermission, or even walking away is a good idea. If they follow you, go to a place where other team members cannot them, if possible. If they explode on the phone, softly say, “Please call back when you have calmed down.” They hang up. 


The team procrastinator doesn’t complete assignments, comes to meeting late and is not dependable in promoting team spirit. Some common responses might be, “the task seems overwhelming, I don’t like the assignment, there are many other things to do that I enjoy more and I'm not sure what I'm supposed to do.”

 Chronic procrastination is a vicious cycle of getting overwhelmed, feeling pressured, fearing failure, trying harder, feeling angry, losing motivation, then procrastinating! The cycle is a trap that leads to feelings of guilt, which spill over into all aspects of life. Procrastination can be a very serious problem, especially if hard-core procrastination habits have been developed.

Procrastination can even negatively affect the way a team member feels about work, leisure, and him or herself. Team members who procrastinate and are most vulnerable are those who fear failure, are threatened by the difficulty of a task, or dislike criticism. If procrastination makes everyone feel so bad, then why do individuals do it? The simple answer is that team members procrastinate because somewhere along the way they have been rewarded for doing it.

The reward for procrastination is that it reduces tension by postponing negative activities. In other words, procrastination is an avoidance mechanism that temporarily gets us out of doing something that we view as painful or threatening. The more painful or threatening the work is viewed, the more the art of procrastination is practiced.

Sometimes there are further rewards for procrastination when delay tactics are used for getting out of doing the job altogether. You know the routine, if you wait long enough, someone else will do it! Each time there is a reward, the habit becomes more deeply ingrained.

 So, what’s a team leader to do? Initially, try and realized that procrastination is a habit which, like other habits, operates just below our consciousness threshold. That means that many team members that procrastinate are hardly aware that they are doing it. Changing procrastination behaviors is like changing other behaviors that become habits, it takes a lot of resolve and self discipline to do it.

 Strategies in dealing with the procrastinator include finding out why they procrastinate. Is it a lack of motivation, are they a perfectionist or is it peer pressure? Then attack each procrastination habit head on.

 Here are some simple things that can be done to break the procrastination cycle for affected team members. Encourage the team member to “quit awfulizing,” every task that is unpleasant, awful, horrible, or unbearable. Of course, the description is not always accurate. Instead of “awfulizing” everything, try and convince the team member that the task is worthwhile, even if it’s difficult.

Try and point out other tasks, assignments or jobs that they have done successfully and remind the individual that they will feel good once its done. Challenging the excuses the team member presents is another approach. If there are rewards for socializing instead of working, then the procrastination effort may be considered a reward. 

In future encounters try seeking commitment instead of demanding goals and projects that may not get completed. Establishing milestones and deadlines for team projects needs to be initiated with a level of member accountability. Other team members can set a good example and praise the procrastinator when they do accomplish a goal or meet a deadline.  

Unmotivated or unchallenged 

                This team member is a master at doing minimal work on the team! They watch the clock constantly and are not involved in team activities, projects or goals. Assigning this individual to mentor new team members will certainly give them a mission.

It may be important for the team to let this member know they are important to future plans and its projects. Also, consider letting them know that the work they are contributing to the team now will have a direct effect on the team in the future. 

Poor Me’s”

            This team member displays a lot of self-pity. They are definitely not a team player and they love bad news and don’t think anything ever goes right. They complain about everything and don’t feel the team is “loyal” to them. Often, they feel entitled to special privileges from the team and its members. In dealing with the “poor me’s” it is important to realize that you can’t make everyone happy all the time.  They do need to understand and probably be told that they are a valued team member.

This can be accomplished by highlighting their accomplishments and achievements on the team itself. Someone on the team may have to explain the reasons behind team decisions and let them know how their griping and complaining affects other team members. They eventually may have to learn to accept disappointment and go on with life.  


                There is nothing worse than betrayal by a team member through back stabbing efforts! These particular team members may feel threatened or jealous. They turn the knife on that blade every chance they get. They try and undermine the team members and its leader and are often heard gossiping in the lunchroom and spreading venom throughout the team.

            Confronting the backstabber is the most effective strategy! And doing it promptly. Become less vulnerable by confronting your own feelings in being realistic that the backstabbing action is taking place. Gearing up your alliances and having them show support for you  will also give the backstabber less ammunition against you.

            Try changing your patterns. Create an increased awareness that backstabbers do actually exist, even in the best of team situations. Realize that “nice” doesn’t always work and stop giving the backstabber information by “telling too much.”

            Other approaches include a “zero tolerance” response. Don’t listen to their criticism of other and don’t act on what they tell you about other team members. The bottom line is, don’t let them have their way! 

Solo achiever 

            This team member insists on working alone when they shouldn’t and creates problems for everyone else on the team. They isolate themselves on projects and assignments, often refusing the help of a willing resource.

A team leader can be effective with this member by integrating their energy and efforts into the team a little better by pairing the solo operator with someone who has complimentary skills. Then assign them work on a project that neither can accomplish alone!  

                Difficult team members can be an opportunity and a challenge for any team and its leader. Team leaders can be assisted in this dilemma by offering periodic reminders to all team members of what behavior is acceptable.

              A good way to do this is by conducting periodic organization wide in services or seminars on the organizations specific policies and procedures. By doing this, the team leader can reinforce good behavior while also reminding the renegade team members that bad behavior will not be tolerated.