Getting loner to work in a group Managing

December 17, 1990|By Gerald Graham | Gerald Graham,Knight-Ridder

While John was a computer whiz, he was, as more than one person suggested, "very anti-establishment." According to a peer, "John works in a vacuum. Our work is very dependent upon information that John delivers, but he pays scant attention to our needs."

Further, John took his breaks alone, disagreed with management about the project goals, complained that others interfered with his work, failed to give progress reports and usually took positions counter to those of the group.

"John's work is excellent," his supervisor said, "but he simply cannot work with a group."

Higher management said, "Terminate John. He's simply too much trouble." However, John's supervisor recognized his talent and wanted to try another approach.

"I sat John down and told him that he was a brilliant programmer, but I could not accept his lack of cooperation," the supervisor said.

The supervisor required that John check in with him weekly and submit regular progress reports. In department meetings, the supervisor insisted that John present reports for the total group.

In informal conversations, the supervisor talked to John about the importance of the project and how crucial it was for people to work together. "I described to John exactly what his role was in the group effort," explained the supervisor. "I said, 'John, I want to take your energy and channel it into a productive group effort.'" The supervisor praised John frequently.

After a few weeks, John did improve slightly, and the supervisor continued his vigorous tough-love coaching. Within six months, John had not only developed into a productive team player, but others looked to him for informal leadership.

In part because the supervisor had the will and the persistence to channel John's drive into the path he wanted it to go, John's group was the only one that got all of its software developed on time. And, better yet, all programs functioned.

Gerald Graham is a professor at Wichita State University and TC management consultant. Send questions to The Wichita Eagle, P.O. Box 820, Wichita, Kan. 67201. He will answer representative questions in the newspaper but cannot respond to every request.

Management quiz

Recall the last time that you had to deal with a talented misfit in your department. Which of the following strategies did you use?

* Set firm performance and teamwork goals.

* Talk often about the importance of teamwork.

* Require regular progress reports.

* Delegate important tasks.

* Demand communication with co-workers.

* Offer excessive praise for achieving goals.

* Require the assumption of some group leadership.

* State firm consequences for violating expectations.

* Maintain intense coaching for at least five to six months.

* Specifically explain the misfit's role in the group.

If you checked three or less, consider more intensive coaching efforts on your next talented misfit.

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