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I'm currently acting as a Project Manager and Tech Lead within a really small team, as we are just starting out. I manage about 6 people so far, and the integration and communication between the team members is going great. Except for a specific team member.

This individual has some habits that sometimes can really annoy the rest of the team, including me. One of my responsibilities is to lead the team into a new workflow and technical stack, and I really like that, but I can't spend all of my time with that, since I also have to plan a lot of stuff.

With all the other team members, I can teach them where to gather information from, or teach them the fundamentals of something, and they are able to find the missing links on Google/Stack Overflow with some ease if not I'm available to help.

However, this other team member (who is supposed to be a mid-level developer) seems to never be able to do some basic research. The first time he stumbles upon an issue, he complains that he has never done that before, or that it's not something technically possible (even when sometimes it's only a matter of following the docs).

He isn't able to study what I ask him to, and when I ask him to study A, he comes back talking about how great B and C are. This individual grossly overestimates his own knowledge and learning abilities. He spends about 60% of the time at his desk, and the other 40% is devoted to smoke breaks, going from desk to desk, or going on random walks within the company.

Every time I ask him to perform a more challenging task he talks about giving up and being frustrated, interrupts other team members without even doing some more in depth research on the topic. Other team members or I then come to his aid and solve the issue, sometimes in a matter of minutes. Mind you, the other team members are also new to this workflow, toolset, and technical stack (and have less overall experience as software developers).

If the only problem was that this individual has a really hard time doing what I ask of him, I still probably wouldn't be writing this. However I've noticed that the other team members are getting tired of this. He speaks really loudly in our really small office and is often leading random conversations on topics such as gaming and music when we are trying get work done. So we just shake our heads and try to ignore him most of the time.

I've taken this issue to the CEO of our small company. He asked me to try for a little longer to get him on board and he had a talk with him about being less intrusive with the team (which seemed to work for about a day). It's a small and really new (a couple of weeks) team within a small company, so I'm wearing a lot of hats, from Project Manager to Software Architect, Scrum Master, and Technical Lead, so I feel/know that it's my responsibility to talk with him and deal with this.

However, I don't know how to approach him on this matter, since half of the problems stem from his soft/interpersonal skills and this person has a really hard time accepting even minor feedback as it's someone with 10+ years of experience with software development.

I'm aware that, if I am to keep on the path to management related areas, I'll have to deal with issues like this on a frequent basis. I could go to the CEO and tell him that I can't have this person on my team, but I don't want to be unfair and give up on him without giving him a chance to do better. What is the best way to tackle this issue for someone on my position?

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What is the best way to tackle this issue for someone on my position?

I would recommend performance reviews. That's a good way to give praise and critique to subordinates. I would just make a list of things that bothers you about his performance and straight-up tell the person what you don't like and give suggestions on how you think he should improve.

If that still doesn't lead to any improvements I would bring up the issue with my manager and recommend giving him a warning. Rinse and repeat and if that doesn't work there's only one outcome.

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Remove him from the team / Get him fired

I know this may not be popular but your description is too close to someone I had the misfortune to work with.

When people talk about the bad apple that spoils a good team they are talking about this kind of individual. The traits you have presented:

  • Mid/Senior level
  • Unable to work independently
  • Continuous useless complaining, interruptions and lack of productivity.
  • Lack of collaboration.
  • Maybe also deep insecurity due to lack of skills despite of years of experience?

Those are things a starting software team does not need. Remove him as soon as possible or deal with the consequences. In my experience your team will start isolating him and this will trigger an increasingly annoying behavior on his part.

In my personal tale, the person was not removed after several complains from all members of the team. The environment degraded progressively getting worse and worse. More than half of this new team changed jobs within a year, myself included, and the project failed.

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  • 1
    Yup. Time for some aggressive performance management. Sometimes that includes what's called "managing out"... – Alex M Mar 11 at 0:30
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By helping them less frequently.

Other team members, or myself them come to his aid and solve the issue in a matter of minutes sometimes.

I would suggest encouraging him to continue to try and find a solution himself, and only assisting once he has begun to block your work. I find that when people are too willing to help a dependency on that help can develop.

Helping this co-woker less often, and still holding them accountable to work they have been assigned will put more pressure on them to:

  1. Do more self directed research. (Or sit at their desk and pout.)
  2. Spend more time at their desk. (If they are stuck on a problem and no one is helping them, they will feel more pressure to resolve the issue themselves.)
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Talk to HR about putting him on a Personal Improvement Plan.

Your CEO has instructed you to give him more time to get onboard; a Personal Improvement Plan is a formalized version of this process. It's a plan that you draw up along with the employee to get his performance up to a specified standard by a specific date. While they're often used as a pretext for firing an individual who has failed to improve themselves, they can also be used as a genuine method for improving the performance of an employee.

If your company has an HR department, they should know how to draw one up; if you don't, there are a number of templates you could use online.

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  • While I agree with the sentiment (to help the employee improve), I'd probably not go for a PIP as a first action. Rather, sit with the employee for a less formal version at first. Set clear expectations and goals and review them regularly. If that doesn't work, and enough warning has been given that this is a serious exercise, then a PIP can serve to help focus the employee and show that they need to take improvement more seriously. – scaryclam Mar 7 at 13:04
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I would like to expand on dan-klasson's answer. Set aside some time to hold regular catch-up meetings with each member of your team. Those can be 10 minute talks that have feedback flowing both ways.

It's important to not single him out, so he does not feel threatened right away. If you want to help him improve, you need to make him feel comfortable with you, he needs to trust you as a manager.

For short 121 meetings, you can do them once a week, or once every two weeks. Book them all in advance, with a bit of a time buffer in between for you to prepare each one. 10 minutes and 5 minutes should work, or longer if you think you need it. Maybe go longer for the first one. In the meeting invitations, write down what you would like to talk about. I'll expand on that below. Set the meetings to private so people can't see what they are about in the calendars or the room booking system. Use a meeting room for a sense of privacy, or if you don't have one, go for coffees with your reports.

Sell these meetings as a chance to give and receive feedback in a safe space, where there is a closed door and they can speak their mind. Ask them in advance to think about these meetings, and try to give them a chance to look forward to them. They are part of you building trust with each one of your reports.

Tell the team in a stand-up or some other all-hands that you will be doing these meetings from now on, because you'd like to establish a more open feedback culture and you would like them to be more proactive and feel comfortable to tell you if you did stuff they didn't like. Do this before you send out the initial invites.

In your invites, ask them to prepare things like this:

  • What went well last week? What are you particularly proud of?
  • Is there something you were unhappy about?
  • What would you like to learn next?
  • Progress on your current project
  • Personal issues you'd like to discuss with me (like holiday plans and stuff like that)

Then think about the same things in relation to each of them. Take notes during the week, and bring them into the meetings.

Make each meeting a conversation. It's not about telling them off, but about learning about them. Give them a chance to be open, and to talk to you. Don't interrogate them, but ask open, leading questions, or simply let them talk. Tell them you will be taking notes, and actually do take notes.

Archive your notes to build a history of what you've discussed with each of them. This gives you a chance to track their individual progress throughout their professional growth (in a very small way, admittedly, but still). It also gives you a paper trail of how they might not be succeeding.

With some of them these meetings might be "Hey, how are you doing?" - "Great, thank you. I'm really enjoying my work" - "That's good to hear. Do you have anything you'd like to talk to me about? - "No, I'm really happy." - "Ok, then I'm happy too. Keep up the good work". Those are easy. Still write that down though.

Now for your problematic reports, try to make him see his own shortcomings. He might not have the best social skills, and might not be aware of how he appears to the other members of the team, in particular about being loud or drifting off into other topics.

Goals you can set with him (and these aren't a PIP just yet) are being more focused, doing one thing but doing it well, or pair-working with you or someone else. Write down these goals and check them at each follow-up meeting. Of course you should be doing this for each of your reports.

Talk to the CEO about your plan to do this, so he's in the loop. You can write out an email informing him about your plan. The key point you want to bring across with him is that you are trying to be supportive, give the problematic developer a chance to improve, but at the same time you are building a documentation trail in case it does not work out to protect the company from repercussions if he needs to be let go. HR will love you for all of this documentation if he ends up having to be fired.

Also consider he might be on probation. You said the team is new and the company is small. In that case I would give him until the end of the probation period, and evaluate shortly before it's over to make a decision.

This is a chance for you to get a lot of hands-on management experience. The harder it is, the more you learn from it.

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