When it comes to work-related difficulties with a team member, more often than not, the person falls into one of two camps. Firstly, you may have someone who is trying really hard to perform at the level required, but for some reason they just aren’t able to deliver. They are not a bad person – they may just need more coaching, or, ultimately, they may just not be suited to that role. Within this broad category, granted there can be a vast range of potential challenges. And then, secondly, there are those who, just by their very nature, go to extraordinary lengths to be obstructive against what the business requires of them. They seem to lose sight of the fact that they are paid to be productive; not to spend their time plotting against their manager’s requests or business goals. It’s this latter group that I want to focus on here. Thankfully they don’t occur that often, but when they do – oh my word, they can cause a whole team to go totally off the rails.
“My boss calls them, Time Terrorists”, a team manager recently told me. “They take up so much managerial effort that you are disabled from giving other, more valuable and more deserved members of your team a fair apportionment of your quality time.” My reply was, “Well your boss describes them perfectly. That just sums it up in so many ways.” So let’s now explore, briefly, what we mean.
First of all, as a manager you only have so much time to devote to getting the job done. Even if you take work home and graft all weekend, there are only limited hours in any week when you can interact directly with your people, and therefore coach them, assist with technical queries, encourage and motivate them etc. etc. It’s challenging enough trying to fit all of this around your other responsibilities, including the tasks handed down to you from your own boss. And then, BANG!, someone in your team, not for the first, or even the second time, starts going ‘full steam’ down a road whereby they are requiring so much more of your attention than either they warrant, or is proportionate to the issue raised. All of a sudden, all of that valuable quality team time disappears down a sink hole, from which there appears to be no escape.
It may be a fairly straight forward change in someone’s duties that has resulted in them becoming, once again, awkward. You end up having to manage the person’s expectations, take time to try and enable them to see that the change is not as bad as they are perceiving, and deal with fallout as it creeps across other team members. It sucks you up. And not just during work time! You go home and you spend time reflecting over what is going on. It frustrates you that there could be lots of positive things happening for others in the team, had the Time Terrorist not decided to once again push things beyond what would be normally acceptable. I am, most definitely, not saying that an employee should never raise concerns, or challenge their boss or the business. In many respects that’s part of the manager’s role to deal with such occurrences. But in reality these instances are rare per capita.
Call me old fashioned, but we get paid to work because our employer needs a job done. We don’t get paid to create a conveyor belt, taking people off on unproductive tangents, and creating even more work for someone else. Then in doing so, the very reason for our jobs existing in the first place is still sitting in the backlog, and adding even more pressure on our team mates as they are left making up the shortfall created by the “It’s all about me” campaign.
So what can be done about it? Well let’s first consider the perspective from someone who is on the verge of being a Time Terrorist themselves. Think about why are they at work, and what are they expected to achieve. Think about the impact on all of those around them. It’s not just the management or the business that will suffer, but also those team members who are supposedly their colleagues. Are they really being fair to everyone, and are they really doing themselves any justice? They need to get some perspective. Rise above it, and take one for the team. Tomorrow someone else may be getting asked to do something that will make their life easier. After all, they are here to work – so get on with it! It’s not supposed to be ‘full on’ fun, or filled with personal preferences. If it was, it would be called ‘leisure’ and they wouldn’t be getting paid for it! Now that would be something to moan about!
What about if you are the manager? OK, you need to be fair to all of your team, and balance that against what the business needs you to deliver. At times certain team members will warrant more of your attention than others. Your team is full of people, and they all have ups and downs along the road of life. So think long and hard. Is this really a ‘Time Terrorist’ you are dealing with, or is it just someone having a bad day? If it is the latter, then part of your role is to manage what’s in front of you. You have to be as supportive as the business allows you to be, and as considerate as the situation requires. Conversely, a ‘Time Terrorist’ is someone whose very character and regular approach (i.e. poor attitude) to their workplace, creates issues that vacuum up your time to the detriment of others and the business. Quite frankly, someone like this is of little value, if any at all, in your team. They are holding you all back, and it needs to be dealt with. The person should be made aware of their impact upon those around them, and they need to be given ample opportunity to develop their energy in more positive and productive ways. Ultimately, having tried as much as is ‘more than reasonable’ to improve the situation, if they can’t do this, then you may find yourself needing to raise the temperature somewhat. As managers we never want to go that far, but when faced with such scenarios, and in order to be fair to the business, and the rest of the team, you have no choice. In fact, if you don’t deal with it, it could be construed that you are inadvertently discriminating against the good people, as they struggle to get your time. Not that any of them would ever complain – they are too busy working on the backlog, and focusing on what they are getting paid to do! But they are the ones who really are deserving of your time and attention – BOOM!