Team Mate not Pulling their Weight? Read on!

Your team mate (or team foe) is just not pulling his weight. He comes in late, bleary-eyed, looking like he’s played GTA all night and rarely delivers his commitments on time which means your work is often delayed.  When you finally get his piece of the project you work the extra hours to correct a multitude of careless mistakes.

But wait there’s more!  When the boss is in town for a visit he wears his best pair of jeans, charms the pants off the boss and actually brushes his hair!  You’re beyond frustrated; you are angry!  It wouldn’t be so bad if you didn’t have to see his screen every day, reflecting back his obsession with FarmVille.

Let’s have a look at what’s going on inside your body as you battle to control yourself from giving your FarmVille-loving team mate a tongue-lashing.

Your brain has a part named the amygdala. This part of your brain is the emotional part that controls your fight or flight response. As your frustration builds your body is gearing up for a fight to survive from the wrong that your team mate has perpetrated against you.

Chemicals such as adrenaline and noradrenaline surge through your body to ready it to engage in an aggressive way or to prepare you to get away from the situation.  Your blood pressure and heart rate increase, your pupils dilate and an increase in blood is sent to your skeletal muscles.

Even if you are managing to keep your frustration to yourself, it is still setting off a chemical reaction in your body that is no good for your health.  Sustained release of these chemicals can do damage to your body over the long term. It may also also harm your relationships. Constant complaining and a lake of enthusiasm for life may make you a bit of a downer to be around. To relieve stress, you may resort to drinking one too many beers or snacking on Mars Bars and Coke.

The worst of it is that instead of taking responsibility for your own chemical reactions and behaviour you are blaming how shitty you are feeling on your team mate. After all, he is the one that is forcing you to complain, drink, eat to much and generally have a bad experience at work. Isn’t he? Or is he?

I’m guessing that the last statement sounded a bit ridiculous and you’ve, hopefully, worked out that the only one responsible for your happiness, health, reactions and behaviour is you. The good news is that you have more power over the situation than you once thought.  The first step is to stop believing you are the victim and start empowering yourself to make a change. Recognise that you have choices. Let’s take a look at some of your choices. I’ve challenged myself to come up with 10.

  1. Do nothing (you once believed this was your only choice)
  2. Accept the situation and focus on managing your reactions
  3. Tell your boss what’s going on
  4. Join another company (although there’s always one!)
  5. Meet with your team mate and talk through your concerns
  6. Ask another team mate for advice
  7. Hold a protest placard with the words “don’t come to work if you don’t want to work!” (add a chant for special effects)
  8. Meditate every morning for 5 minutes to centre yourself.
  9. Giving indirect (passive-aggressive) hints such as rolling your eyes.
  10. Say under your breath, every time you look at your team mate, “I forgive you.”

From my experience with helping leaders to build high performing teams, my first suggestion (after meditating, of course) is number 5; meet with your team mate and talk through your concerns.  I’m well aware that the mere suggestion of choosing this option can trigger the fear response in your overprotective amygdala, but let me first calm your fears by asking a simple question.  “If one of your team mates was annoyed at you for something, would you want to know?I’ve never met someone who responded with a no.  Here’s how I suggest you do it.

Ask your team mate out for a coffee or to join you for lunch.  After the chit-chat, tell him that you have a few concerns about how the two of you are working together and ask if he would like to hear them.  Of course he does.  Next tell him directly what your concerns are from your perspective.  “I’ve noticed that you come in late on most days….”, next the impact “and the impact on me is that I am waiting around for your piece of the project and It often means I’m working back late.”   “I also have noticed some mistakes in the work and I’ve been correcting them.”  “The impact on me is that I’m working longer hours and just not enjoying myself at work as much as I used to.”

Good, it’s going well.  Next ask “How do you see it?” Listen to his points and then no matter what his response is, ask “Where do we go from here to get the project and our relationship back on track?”   The golden rule here is to never, ever, ever argue. He is entitled to the way he sees things and you are entitled to the way you see things.  Just focus on the solution. Make sure you leave with concrete commitments, otherwise it’s simply been a nice chat and not likely to result in changes in behaviour.

On the off chance your chat has contributed to an amygdala hijack in your team mate; Chill!  You are not responsible for other people’s reactions.  As long as you have been direct and respectful, then you have done well. If you take responsibility for the anger, sadness, or defensiveness of others then you are likely to keep them from growing and learning.  Take responsibility for your reactions and let others take responsibility for theirs. Simpleton!

If that doesn’t work, then it’s the right time to choose suggestion number 3.  Take it to your boss.  Keep the conversation positive and focused on solutions. Your boss has too many problems as it is (perhaps that’s another blog).

One thing is for sure, if your health, happiness and relationships are being affected by doing nothing, then at least you now know you are 100% responsible for all of the good and bad things that happen as a consequence of making that choice.


Kristyn Haywood is the Founding Director of People for Success.  Kristyn helps to build inspiring workplaces through delivering executive coaching, team alignment workshops and cultural transformation journeys.

She helps individuals, teams and organisations take 100% responsibility for expressing themselves constructively and taking ownership for their reactions to focus in achieving their strategic objectives.

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