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I recently joined as a team leader in a new company and the project manager assigned me five subordinates for this project. My problem is that I always feel afraid of handling the team as I don't know my powers and feel helpless. I am not aware what powers I have to make subordinates listen and follow my decisions.

I am a very simple person and for me it is difficult to shout at team members even if they are doing something wrong. I always phrase things as requests not commands. My subordinates often take advantage of this. I feel that the reason behind this is that I don't know my powers. Internally I feel that if I show them their mistakes they will become aggressive, shout at me, or complain about me to my project manager.

I would like to resolve this issue with a positive approach which doesn't harm my relationship with my subordinates, but that makes sure that they will complete their tasks.

Some examples of the different situations when internally I feel angry but at the same time helpless:

  1. There are some tasks that need to be done, but subordinates chat with other team members instead of getting on with things. If I ask them to come to me as there is some work to do, they say okay but don't actually come until I call them a second or third time, and when they do come their body language shows aggressiveness or anger.

  2. When they are doing other things instead of getting things done, they just try to give excuses for things not happening. They do this by making small things sound bigger than they are. If I try to go deeper to find out the reason, their body language shows anger and they don't respond properly to me. If I ask questions they tell me they have already answered them.

  3. They don't want to stay late even if the work is not done, and they tell me their personal reasons for not staying late.

  4. Three members of my team are working sincerely at present, but because of their behavior I fear they may respond to me with the same attitude in future.

I feel that if I tell all this to my project manager he will think that I am not capable of handling the team and it will be taken negatively.

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  • How long has this been going on? There's a big difference between 2 weeks and 3 months – Sigal Shaharabani Nov 24 '13 at 11:37
  • It is going on from more than a month – user1149555 Nov 24 '13 at 12:33
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    My first suggestion would be to stop referring to them as your "subordinates". They are members of your team and you are the lead. That is different than a manager position in most places. Your job is to direct their efforts and lead the team. – IDrinkandIKnowThings Nov 25 '13 at 16:40
  • Also note, that the correct measurement is "delivering the product as promised" - i.e. on time and of the agreed quality. If they can do that while talking to others, then what is the problem? – Thorbjørn Ravn Andersen Nov 26 '13 at 11:36
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    @user1149555 - I'm asking a couple of questions because I've made some assumptions in my response. First question - is this a software project? 'Projects' in most engineering disciplines, such as bridges, aircraft, or even electronics tend to weed out slackers pretty quickly. The IT business, in comparison, has a lot of people that think a CS degree is a license, have no real interest in it, and are camping out on employer payrolls. Second question - are you in either Asia or continental Europe (i.e., not Ireland or the UK)? Some of the details in your posting suggest a non-English country. – Meredith Poor Nov 27 '13 at 7:33
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Team lead can be a lot of different things, so I'm going to throw out some basic assumptions for your office:

  • Someone contributes to the decisions and documentation regarding how well people do their jobs, and what the reward/penalty should be - that includes performance reviews, raises, incentive pay, promotions, the granting or revocation of official privileges (for example sometimes only top performers can work at home). My bet is that as team lead you can influence these decisions, but you are not the actual decision maker

  • The project manager has overall accountability for the cost, schedule and deliverables of the project and at what quality level the project is completed.

  • As the team lead, your core area is to be a subject matter expert in how the work should get done, whether your team has the resources they need, and the tasking of who does what within your sphere. Resources are probably both internal things (like experience, knowledge and skills) and external things like access to tools, equipment, access rights, etc.

The reason I highlight this is a key to using power is to know what power is really yours. If I'm right in the basic assumptions - a key area of your power is deciding who gets to do what in their role. There's generally choice work that is more exciting and then some boring stuff that no one is thrilled about. That's a real non-monetary driver.

Here's a few different strategies varying from very gentle to a bit more aggressive.

Reward good work

It sounds like you've got some team members with a fine attitude and some with a problem. Make sure that those who are working well get rewarded. In particular, if someone has proven themselves to be diligent, hardworking and honest:

  • Don't second guess their judgement. It's OK to ask questions so that you understand a situation, but don't second guess someone who's proven that they can perform in terms of time estimates or how hard something is.

  • Give them your time and attention when they ask - make sure that folks who are performing are a priority when they have an honest issue.

  • Talk to them about what they like doing, what they want to do and what their ambitions are and try where possible to give them appropriate and challenging assignments.

  • Keep them in mind for good opportunities like training or a chance to try something new.

It's not "privileged" treatment if you are rewarding good work. When a non-performing team member asks for or demands similar rights, return to the behaviors that have been a problem and point out that you're not OK with giving them new opportunities when they can't finish current work on time.

Don't Join In

Seems obvious I know. But don't contribute to the situation - don't make a habit of long chats, and don't let a meeting time slip because of chatter. If you've asked once for people to get to the meeting, walk into the meeting area, close the door and start.

Know and make clear the difference between asking and telling

Asking for input is good - as a team lead, you won't know everything about how the work gets done. Ask the team for honest assessments of scope and possible impediments. Feel free to question things that seem crazy, but do ask.

But draw a line between the asking part of the conversation and the telling. If you have a specific task and a hard deadline, this is a job requirement, not a favor or a polite request. The company is paying the employee and in return he's agreed to do this work. Make sure that when you give a task it is clear that it is an assigned thing, given clearly and with a deadline. "I need this by X date" not "could you do this by x date?", "I'd really like it soon, OK?" or "how about this thing by around this date maybe?" Being clear and direct is not being a jerk, it's avoiding ambiguity. That's your job, and for many people it's a relief to know exactly what they need to do and when.

You can even reinforce it by writing it down - if you meet in person, follow up with an email that says each assignment, so it's written and unambiguous. If you're having a real hard time getting follow through, CC any member of management you need - the Project Manager, the bigger boss, who ever it takes. That way the person can see that not only are you telling them what to do, but all parts of management see it too.

Collaborate with the Resource Management

You've got some bad performance behaviors here. Check in with who ever IS the resource management (the person doing reviews, figuring out raises, etc.) and give the feedback of your issues. Be very sure of how this feedback impacts the success of the project. Just because someone is annoying is not a good reason to complain, but when social conversations + an unwillingness to compensate with longer hours leads to slips in project schedule - there's a problem. You can certainly give feedback directly to the people who have the problems, but when you've done that once or twice, it's time to go to the resource manager and get help.

If you ARE the person writing the reviews, get a check in with your boss on how to proceed both with writing the review and with follow on action.

The key here is to have the people with a problem realize that you are not a lone crazy person - you are part of the management structure and behavior that leads to slips in productivity are a company problem. Just because you are new and unknown does not mean your perspective is invalid, and if the company believes in your abilities as a manager, the rest of the managers around you should be able to back you up.

Stand up for yourself.

I have NEVER found it necessary to yell, bang my fist, stomp around or be otherwise angry and authoritative. What I do find is that I must be clear, honest and direct while remaining in control. There's different language and formats for this based on whether you are dealing with a public situation or a private one on one conversation - but either way, there should not be a reason to raise your voice. I strongly advocate being factual and directly tying the problems together. Here's some examples:

  • Do Say: "I've been listening to this conversation for half an hour, you all started at 10:30 and it's now ll. I've also seen it happen 4 out of 5 days this week. I know you all want to leave on time, but have to get work done."

    • Don't say: "it seems like you guys have been talking for ages. This happens all the time. Can we please get some work done?"
  • Do say: "we agreed to this deadline three weeks ago. We've talked about it every week, and every time we talk, you say it's all good and you're making progress. Now we're three days from the deadline and this is the first time I hear it can't get done in time. I understand the need for personal commitments, but at what point can you make finishing this task a priority?"

    • Don't say: "hey, we've known for a long time that you had to do this. Can't you get it done this week?"

On some level, there is a point where you are basically saying "I'm the leader, and I have authority. You can do what I'm asking from you, or I can figure out how to get you out of my team and probably out of this company - what you do from here is your choice." Put this way, it sounds like a threat, but it doesn't have to. Simply asking for what is needed, calmly and clearly can generally be enough.

If you don't get emotional, you have a much greater chance of the employee not getting emotional either - shouting matches have to get started by someone - don't let it be you, keep cool. If the employee starts the shouting, ask them to stop. If they won't, disengage the conversation and suggest that you continue it when they have cooled down. This is not very far from dealing with a child who is throwing a tantrum - don't add to the emotions with your own input - demand and expect mature behavior and make it clear that calm behavior is a requirement.

If you see a bad pattern, you will likely have to express this in a private conversation. Often performance problems are not a single bad day or occurrence but a pattern of not getting enough work done over a long time span. So what becomes necessary is to put all the observations together and then direct the focus to getting tasks accomplished. Once you get into this zone, you need to be crystal clear yourself on what your authority level. Sometimes a team lead is not allowed to have a conversation this direct, if they are not the supervisor of the employee.

Keep Notes

When I have a performance issue, I take an obsessive number of notes. The only way I can be precise with people about a problem in a pattern is to actually know the pattern. So when I have periodic checkins in a problem area, I have notes on when I checked in, with who and what they told me. When I have repeated issues with long chatter and frequent personal life conflicts - I start saving emails and making a note about the chatter start time/end time.

While I normally am not precise on details, the ability to give specific honest feedback is really important and worth the effort when there's a problem. We all gloss details so it may very well be that the people with problems don't even realize why there's such a big issue.

Asking your boss

Some of the politics above are not clear in all offices - but the person YOU directly report to should be clear. I'd advocate going to your boss at any time - they are always a good person to ask on office culture and politics stuff, and the issues here the types of team change/growing pains that can take a bit of coaching for a new team lead. It's entirely appropriate to ask for help, get vetting on your intended next steps, and to report on issues that are brewing.

Things to consider:

  • It's never bad to have a plan in mind. Even if your plan seems rather crazy, at least it shows you are trying and that you are taking responsibility.
  • Most management advice will require that you make the words your own. Many bosses will give you examples of ways to approach the situation - realize that repeating the words verbatim is almost never a win - if you believe in an approach that your boss offers, make the words your own, so that you are speaking from your own beliefs.
  • There may be do's and don'ts in how the company would like you to deal with issues - be clear with your boss on when you MUST handle something in a specific way (or MUST NOT handle it in a certain way), and when he's merely offering you an option. It's OK to ask point blank - "is that an order or an option?"
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    +1 for keeping notes, being specific is very important when building a case against someone who is cutting corners. – Paul Hiemstra Nov 25 '13 at 18:10
  • This answer is everything I was going to write. – DJClayworth Nov 25 '13 at 23:25
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    One thing I would add: seek the advice of your boss. He/she has probably been in your shoes and knows how to deal with it. You might also ask for some training on the role of a team lead. – DJClayworth Nov 26 '13 at 4:09
  • Fair point - I added a section – bethlakshmi Nov 26 '13 at 16:53
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The key thing to realize here is that it's not your job to make people do their work. It's your job to remove impediments by answering questions, keeping people informed, and pro-actively removing distractions.

Work with your project manager to hold people accountable. It doesn't matter if they chit chat, as long as they get their work done. It doesn't matter if they won't work late, as long as they get their work done. That needs to be your focus, and their actual manager (who has the authority) needs to get involved when people aren't getting their work done.

  • They are reporting to me, so I am there actual manager right? – user1149555 Nov 24 '13 at 15:59
  • Also problem is that they are not doing their daily task assigned to me and due to which it matters if they didn't sit late to get their work complete – user1149555 Nov 24 '13 at 16:00
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    @user1149555 - you're only their actual manager if you have the authority to fire them or give them raises. – Telastyn Nov 24 '13 at 16:36
  • @user1149555 - So they are not doing the work that is assigned to you... hmm I think i see the problem – IDrinkandIKnowThings Nov 25 '13 at 16:43
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    @djclayworth - absolutely, and in my experience a team lead isn't a line manager. They're a technical resource whose job is to provide technical guidence and arbitration. Their boss is often a less technical line manager whose better soft skills are focused on organizing and motivating all of the team. – Telastyn Nov 26 '13 at 12:36
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If I were you, I'd take the following approach :

  1. Set deadlines on things that need to be completed.If you are in IT, then have a project plan, create status tickets and assign them to developers in question. If you are not in IT, then either maintain a white board or distribute an excel sheet keeping a track of who was assigned what - what is the current status and if there are impediments if any.
  2. Depending on which stage your project is, take a daily/weekly stock check of situations and where you stand.
  3. Since you already know your team is slipping out of control, keep senior management involved in where your project currently is and send them daily/weekly/monthly project updates. Always keep them in loop of your project's status.
  4. Always keep an open channel of how open issues can be reported back by your team members to you.
  5. If the assigned tasks aren't being completed on time you have to take a professional approach and set a yardstick of how you want to deal with these issues. Do you want to issue 2 warnings or 1 warning and put the candidate on a performance improvement plan before reporting this guy to senior management/HR ? Or take a step back and see if you have evaluated this person's capacity on the task assigned correctly and whether another employee could do this better. Your end objective is to make sure the tasks are completed.
  6. In this process if you burn some bridges you need to ask yourself what is important ? Is it your relationship with your employees or your commitment/loyalty to work and your discharge of duties for the salary you are paid.

Most importantly, you need to remember that you can still be a peaceful guy and track the status of your project while you keep your project properly 'managed'.

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Proper performance targets move butts. So if people are not moving fast enough or you always feel more can be done, revisiting the targets you've set or inherited is recommended.

Uncompetitive, easy, or difficult-but-vague targets will result in the first 3 symptoms you've described.

I've had my share of "Hmm, these guys are just cruising" observation. And turned things around with momentum by redefining targets. No yelling needed and in fact they start running around clarifying all sorts of stuff with you to make the next step and show progress individually and as a team.

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It is not always good to take responsility of leading the team.It is quite natural that all members of the team can't be of same temprament,there are some team members who are tough and respond aggressively.With reference to your situation I would suggest to be as much calm as possible.Listen properly and then give a mature and unemotional response to your employee.I hope kind and polite response works wonders. First of all look deeply what makes your employee aggressive,then have a detailed and thorough understanding into it.Plan your response then share with your employee.

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Per comment below, this answer is focused on software development projects. Much of it applies to other project oriented teams as well. The OP is a member of a number of software discussion areas. Other moderators have asked that this be made 'generic', much of the value of this discussion will be lost in doing so.


You're approaching this as someone that has a supervisor and authoritative role. Set aside the idea of 'obedience', 'shouting at people', and insisting that they listen to you.

In software development it is important to get a consensus. Therefore, as the project progresses, it's important to figure out what the developers think it's going to take to get it finished. This is a mixture of time, professional development, equipment resources, test data, etc. This is a moving target given that new requirements emerge as coding progresses.

You have two groups from your description - the producers and the slackers. If at all possible, get the slackers pushed 'elsewhere' - get them off your team. Just because they're your employer's problem doesn't mean they have to be your problem. If you don't have the ability to discharge them or reassign them ask the person that does to see what can be done.

Otherwise focus on the 'producers'. If the slackers realize they're getting benched they might decide to change their ways. If they really have no interest in programming at all this won't happen. If they can do it but are bored they might get interested if it looks like the rest of the team is tuning them out.

Management in general involves a lot of measuring. On the factory floor this is units over time, downtime, etc. In software this is module completions and issue resolutions, among others. What you measure in this situation depends on the kind of project - if the software deals with money there needs to be a far stricter testing protocol than if it's social media, for example.

Hopefully you have some sort of source code check in/check out. As a manager you can look at the checkout/checkin cycles to see who is busy all day and who is hanging around the coffee pot. This makes an interesting report during project status reviews.

While you are 'the boss' and a bit remote from life in the trenches, the people with performance issues are likely to feel pressure from their peers. While they may see you as a necessary evil, they're going to be less comfortable letting their co-workers down - if your perception is accurate. One presumes the producers would want the non-producers out just as badly as you do.

Assume that the people you're working with are professionals and treat them as colleagues. It is fair to ask them to document their reasons if they disagree with you. These should be brief - you are simply asking them to clarify their thinking - this is not system documentation or an employment review. If you have three people that are working and they each explain why they're going in the direction they are, you can find out whether they agree with each other. If they aren't, it will be necessary to identify the assumptions each is working from, then work toward finding common ground. This might involve developing example code, demonstrating the performance effects of a database query, or whatever. In short, figure out the reasons for the thinking, not simply whether the thinking is good or faulty.

You are also, presumably, an interface to the users/customers. It could be that your customer is another contractor and that contractor is working for an IT department of a major company - in that situation you are two degrees of freedom removed from actual users. If at all possible you need to have user involvement in the design and development cycles, and you personally would be the one to act as that interface. On at least some occasions, the developers should sit in on these meetings, or more particularly demonstrate what they've done.

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    Hey Meredith, again, this question seems to be office-agnostic (project management exists outside of the software world), so it would be useful to generalize your experience to help the non-software people who reference this question/answer in the future. – jmac Nov 25 '13 at 1:30
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    Getting the slackers moved elsewhere is you avoiding the issue. You probably got those slackers on the team because someone else shuffled them off his team. If that attitude pervades the whole company then the company will fail – DJClayworth Nov 25 '13 at 23:22
  • I find it problematic to focus on metrics like "resolved issues" and "code checkins". Yes, they can tell you something, but they need a lot of intepretation, and are easily gamed. Keep that in mind. – sleske Jan 13 '15 at 10:06
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I feel you are being ambiguous and a little wishy-washy. I think you can use your personality to your advantage while still removing the ambiguity.

When you ask someone to complete a task, wait for a response.

You: Would you be able to get this done?

Co-worker: Okay.

Now you have their commitment.

You: This needs to be done by 4 in this format with these specifications. Can I count on you to do this?

Co-worker: Yes.

You: Great. Thanks. I'll send you an email to remind you.

Now you have removed ambiguity without feeling like you're ordering around your "subordinates."

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    This only works if you leave them the room to answer 'No' and come with a counter proposal: ""No I can't do this by 4, will 6 be OK?" – Jan Doggen Jan 12 '15 at 8:54

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