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I have been working in a team for the last two years to develop an application (.NET) in a company. My manager (who is a great leader) asked me to take initiative and train a new team member who joined two weeks ago. The training simply involved giving that person some practical problems and walking her through the processes. She had experience in Java so I assumed that the basic logic was clear.

I shared my knowledge with her and gave her quick dos and don'ts that gave me sleepless nights when I was at her stage, followed by some practical test problems.

I noticed that she is spending way too much time on the phone than on the learning process itself. The problems that I gave should have taken 3-4 hours even for a beginner. She took almost 14 hours and the results were still not up to the mark. This continued for a few more days. Every time I questioned it, her answer was simply, "everyone learns at their own pace". I respect that, but knowing that the problems were really not that hard made me really uncomfortable with such an answer.

Today she behaved really rudely when I said that we still have miles to go before actually stepping into the real project, so could she please speed up. Her response was really impolite. Would it be fine to discuss this with my manager?

I want to be a manager someday and eventually someday I will.

My questions right now are how can I handle such an argumentative team member and do I need to be bossy to make her listen? Finally, if this continues, how should I handle it?

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What do you mean by "she is spending way to much time on phone than on the learning process itself" Is she wasting time rather than working on the assignment, or is she just taking a long time to complete the assignment? –  Fiona Taylor Gorringe Apr 30 at 14:35
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I second @CodingKiwi's question: she spends too much time on the phone doing what? Reminds me of a Russian colleague and top notch Linux sys engineer who got so many calls during working hours from his Russian buddies asking for how-to help that he finally lost patience, yelled into the phone (in Russian) and punctuated the tirade by slamming the phone back into the cradle - And half an hour later, they'd be calling him again :) There are lots of people out there who claim they know stuff, and they don't. –  Vietnhi Phuvanmail Apr 30 at 15:56
    
@CodingKiwi I may be wrong about this, but if the OP's in is India, I have heard that taking (even making) personal calls while on duty is normal. I heard this from someone who recently visited and was very surprised at this, but it seemed to be considered OK. –  jammypeach Apr 30 at 17:02
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@jammypeach Long personal calls were most certainly not OK where I worked in India (a large software consultancy firm). Also not OK where my wife worked (a small family-owned travel agency). Possibly this varies company-to-company? –  Jayraj Apr 30 at 18:50
    
Can you tell if she was on her phone taking phone calls, or coming to stackoverflow for answers? I know my place of employment can monitor everything I do on my machine, but not on what gets sent on my phone's network. –  avgvstvs Apr 30 at 22:24

4 Answers 4

up vote 17 down vote accepted

I would say you don't need to be "bossy", but you do need to be clear. You are setting a tone here for what it means to be a member of the team, and if the behavior and output is sub-par, it's fair to both give feedback to the new team member and to the manager. Since you are NOT the manager, giving the input and then letting the manager handle it or being open to his further direction would be a good move.

A good way to give feedback is to make a clear observation and ask for clarification. For the cases you mention:

  • "I see you on the phone this much" where this much is pretty specific - "3 out of 4 times I've come by", or "for an hour I could hear you on the phone while sitting within hearing distance of you in my workspace" - and then ask what is going on - "is there something going on I should know about. This many phone calls in a work day is not within the standard expectation of our group, everyone takes 15 minutes a few times a day to arrange appointments, touch base with family, etc but it's important to be able to maintain focus for most of the work day." Note that this varies based on culture - some places are fine with big gaps in a work day so long as the work gets done on time.

  • "The problems I gave you were relatively simple, I expected that they would take you 3-4 hours each to complete, so I was surprised that it took you 14 hours to get the first one done - what can we do to speed up the pace?" The answer could be "help me with my IT problems - they kept me from compiling the code and I've spent 6 hours trying to resolve them on the phone! ARGH!"

Slow Learning

The answer "give me more time to learn" isn't universally acceptable but it's a place to start giving feedback about the complexity of the problems and the nature of the work. "We work in an agile environment here, we have a 2 week sprint, and we often get faced with new problems each sprint. So if it takes you 14 hours to learn a simple problem, I'm concerned that you'll have real trouble keeping up with the ongoing pace of our work, where software must be ready to test about 7 days into the sprint, leaving 3 days of slack for test and bugfix...".

With that said, some people take way more time to consider a problem and then deliver a solution that is so awesome and issue-free that it takes much less time to implement and verify it. So be ready to discuss the whole picture and not a fraction of the problem. That's why my example is of a sprint - its a delivery of whole functionality in a lifecycle and not a sub-step. If what you've given this person so far is only the sub-step, then you may not have a valid frame of reference for their capabilities.

Rudeness

It's natural to feel some defensiveness if the person judging you is coming across as unfair or if you don't grant the premise that they have a right to give you this feedback. Hard to tell here. How to deal with it has a lot to do with the details, and it's probably worth a check in with your boss or your mentor in the company, so that you can get a sense of how to handle this within the culture.

Feedback frequency

With all of this said, there's a limit to how often to give feedback. Giving feedback to someone every day is exhausting for both of you - find a break down in the meaningful chunks of work where you can give small feedback to effect small changes. Weekly is often a good rate, especially with a new person.

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Exceptional advice @bethlakshmi. –  ankit suhail Apr 30 at 15:10

I would let this outburst slide.

Your boss gave you the responsibility to train your new coworker. Offer that you understand learning a new technology can be frustrating, but you want to help ease the transition. Ask your coworker what her largest hurdles are.

If her hurdles are valid, put together a plan, and communicate this plan to your boss, so s/he is aware you are making progress with your new coworker. Keep your new coworker on-plan with daily or at least weekly checkins.

If her hurdles are not valid, have this discussion with her gently, telling her of the expectations based on her Java knowledge and previous exposure to software. Give her hard targets to meet, and communicate this with your boss so s/he is aware.

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What do you mean by "not valid"? –  starsplusplus Apr 30 at 14:32
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For a Java developer coming over to .NET, issues I would consider "not valid": difficulty switching syntax, issues not understanding basic OO paradigms, trouble understanding existing code (if C#, more valid if it's VB) –  Garrison Neely Apr 30 at 14:43
    
So you mean hurdles that are too low? –  starsplusplus Apr 30 at 14:46
    
I tried to be in her shoes and imagine if I will take the same time if I had to switch from .NET to JAVA. The answer was clearly NO. So I would not say that the Hurdles are too high. making a simple calculator with add,subtract,divide and multiply two numbers is not much of a task I guess. Is it? –  ankit suhail Apr 30 at 15:06
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No, it's not. I would take an hour out of your day to "pair program" with her. Sit beside her and ask her to talk you through what she'd do and then ask her to implement it. –  Garrison Neely Apr 30 at 15:09

I would definitely raise this with your manager. If you don't, it will reflect very badly on you (trust me). It sounds like the person you are mentoring isn't taking you seriously, maybe the problems aren't challenging enough or they want to get their toes wet and bite into something a little more serious.

If that's the case, then give this new employee more responsibility. If they think they're ready to get into a real piece of work, tell your manager of the fact and then designate them a few tasks. If they fail, then they have no excuse as you gave them the opportunity to gradually ease into the work through smaller exercises.

When you train to become a chef, your first year is spent cleaning and cutting up fruits/vegetables and meats. You don't get responsibility instantly, you have to earn responsibility and to me, this new employee hasn't earned such responsibility. They can assist with a meal, but by no means are they ready to prepare one on their own.

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In any company,it is a common problem that there must be the employees or team who are argumentation a lot.All are having the different opinion and concept to do the work.In any company,there are differences in the way and opinion of two employees,this differences results in an employee for being argumented. To deal with this type of team you must make certain protocols according to their behavior and talent.You have to handle this with the polite nature and calmly talking with the team.Try to communicate with the team in a respectful manner and discuss the problem they have based on the facts not for emotions.

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this post is rather hard to read (wall of text). Would you mind editing it into a better shape? –  gnat May 1 at 11:07

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