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I'm a team leader in a software development team. Recently, we've had a new team member join us who's very extroverted and tends to talk excessively during work hours and, disrupting our focus(thanks @gidds), the team's productivity and morale are suffering as a result.

A little context : Our team is small, consisting of only 4 programmers, where there's a culture where we don't speak in the open office to each other. This was never implemented, It started out because I hate being distracted by shit-chat and I see no value in having to disturb others just to inform them that task X has been done or Y problem is popping up again or that I need credential Z.

Since we share an open office, it's impossible to keep a conversation between 2 people, because it will surely distract/interrupt others, and the new member tries all the time to make shit-chat and overshares their activities (in a whisper like tone) distracting everyone. This just isn't tolerable, he usually only has this type of behaviour 2–3 times per day, but it's getting to a level where it's 4–6 times per day.

I have had my subordinates message me and file complaints against this individual in order to justify his demotion if need be, meaning firing him is the only option I'm seeing. I did have a 1:1 with him, explaining that he needed to fit in the current culture.

Not only that, but I want to provide him some type of guidance in order to better fit in, but I can't find any books or courses that align with the way we do things. I'm concerned about maintaining a harmonious team environment while addressing this disruptive behaviour. What strategies or approaches would you recommend ?

Clarifications :

I am in a certain way the head of department (unofficially) my boss is OK as long as deadlines are met, and we are making money. My boss is aware of it, he told me to handle it since it's my department, that's why I'm asking for advice the only way to handle it I see is to fire him.

We have meetings and shit-chat in a room at the end of the hallway as to not disturb anyone in the middle of work, and to let others know we are not busy at that moment, this is where other teammates look for us, they also never go into our office for the same reasons.

We are in the same room, but we are all against a wall (no posters or decorations). Furthermore, we can't even see each other, we are only on the same office because we don't yet have the space for a programmer per office, but that's the goal. Open spaces IMO are just asking for being distracted.

Why am I so stern about not talking ? Humans take From 8 to 25 minutes to resume their current task after interruptions, scaling with complexity, we pay everyone 8 hours a day, with 4–6 distractions a day that's up to 2.5 hours (150 minutes), stacking that with the 2 breaks of 30 minutes that's already 3.5 hours they aren't working. That's almost 4 hours a day.

Why am I not changing the environment to fit this person ? I'm not changing something that will upset ALL the team just for someone new who just arrived, they need to fit in, not vice versa.

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Managing communication in a small office of developers, to avoid unnecessary interruptions and distraction is important and you are right to highlight academic research that shows that.

BUT there is also significant academic evidence that treating workers well (i.e. not "I don't have the mindset that everyone is special in their own way, to me, we are all replaceable") is also hugely important.

To quote the article:

"1. Foster social connections. A large number of empirical studies confirm that positive social connections at work produce highly desirable results. For example, people get sick less often, recover twice as fast from surgery, experience less depression, learn faster and remember longer, tolerate pain and discomfort better, display more mental acuity, and perform better on the job."

Having concentration time AND being interested in one another are not mutually exclusive.

Surely there is a way to allow some talking (first thing before you are work? At lunchtime? etc) that allows some communication, without causing interruptions. Discuss it openly with the team and try to find compromises. And if you make a decision record it, so a future new starter doesn't have to guess what the unwritten rule is.

If all the team members (and I'm not clear from your description if it is all, or just you and those who complain) are inflexible and can't find a compromise, I don't see a way for the new developer to remain and be happy. The team's inflexibility will have painted you into a corner and you'll have to bear the cost of that (new dev probably leaving, the effort to find a new one, the effort to explain in interviews about your culture of silence). Maybe that's worth it and the right decision, but that's what you need to decide as leader. But there is no magic wand you can wave to get the new dev to "just shut up", stay and be productive.

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I have had my subordinates message me and file complaints against this individual in order to justify his demotion if need be. I did have a 1:1 with him, explaining that this attitude was not something I would put up with.

Ease off right there, you are almost certainly in the wrong here and you need to start thinking on not just how to solve this situation and damage control, but honestly also about your future in leadership roles.

Now let's dig in as of why.

Our team is small, consisting of only 4 programmers where there's an informal-not spoken-agreement where we don't speak to each other and everything is talked about through email or chat messages (we have our own chat separated from business). This was never implemented, I simply get bored with small talk and I don't really put much value on people, including myself.

I started this way, then an intern came and stayed, adopted the same thing I did. Then 1 more did the same. We are all developers, we have no reason to speak to each other outside meetings

So you let some arbitrary "no talking ever" rule to grow and effectively be implemented without actually ever discussing it with the team, or asking anyone's opinion; including your superior who put you into one room, in a building, together for the sake of better communication. You just threw all of that outside of the window. At that point I would have a team meeting and then present to your boss, as is your job as the team leader, that you switch to being fully remote and save company some office space.

But the key here is that you didn't discuss it with anyone, or even set any actual rules, and yet you expect them to be followed by new members. And first time this didn't happen you are talking to them like they did anything wrong. And you do this with the absolutely inhumane attitude of:

Having him feeling like we were interested in his life was rude, I do not care about his life, at all.

Mind how you speak on behalf of entire team here, despite never asking your team if they also feel like they don't care about one another. If those people don't care about one another, they are not a team, they are just 4 individuals in a room, and it's your job to make a team out of them.

All this boils down to your question of

What strategies or approaches would you recommend ?

First, you need leadership and, really, basic human relationship training. This is not an if, as the way you represent your team, without asking them is plainly wrong. You are enforcing your views upon others, and the first time those were challenged you are looking for a way to effectively beat them into submission, rather than trying to understand them at all.

Because that's what you didn't do. You didn't schedule a call to ask how are they doing, ask how are they finding the communications and team dynamic, try to understand the motivations behind the way they act. You just went "they are extrovert, they don't fit here and must fit in, we won't budget an inch" (paraphrasing, not quoting) without even consulting the team you are speaking on behalf of. This shines through your comments, for example:

Why would you start talking about your weekend unprompted ? Do you believe other people are interested ?

Yes, I care about what my coworkers did in their weekend. Yes, I care about their lifes. Yes I am interested (within reason) in their interests. In short, me, a human, have life that isn't quietly hitting a keyboard for 8 hours a day without uttering a word.

Because of that I also struggle to believe that the new member is as disruptive as you make them to be because you didn't care enough to even try to understand them.

In the end they are just a replaceable worker robot, not a person, right?

That's why you should go into management and probably HR training asap, as treating people like this is not what leaders are made out of.

And the second, immediate, thing to do is to have a team meeting, maybe invite someone from HR to attend and mediate/moderate/observe as you need the help so it won't turn into railroading the new guy, but in team, not 1:1, setting.

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  • My team complained, they made their opinions clear, he doesn't fit, or try to, multiple times. I'm not the one with a problem with it, if it was just me, I'd get a private office.I've updated the question with some clarifications.
    – Or4ng3h4t
    Commented Apr 24 at 9:13
  • @Or4ng3h4t if that's all you took from this answer, I cannot help you. Go and fire the new person, and make sure to hire better down the line, as failing to properly do cultural fit test and then integrate the new person in is entirely on you. Or the team, as you keep using those interchangeably.
    – Aida Paul
    Commented Apr 24 at 9:29
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    @Or4ng3h4t "I'm not the one with a problem with it", like the wind blows.
    – Aida Paul
    Commented Apr 24 at 9:33
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    As Aida Paul mentioned in their answer, your team seems to have a very specific dynamic. It's unlike any engineering team I've worked in, in decades of coding. I think my answer applies to your specific current situation, but if you'd like to manage elsewhere one day or be able to work with different types of people, the other answers like this one have really important pointers. Commented Apr 24 at 14:55
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    @mattfreake I ran into that twice in my career, first time I ran, second almost no one survived a month after I took over. Trying to get those people to play nice with others was a task beyond completion.
    – Aida Paul
    Commented Apr 24 at 15:07
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First and foremost, the fact that the new member has a different conversation style should not be grounds for demotion on its own.

I think you really have 2 problems here.

It is not unreasonable to ask the new team member to limit the non-work conversations. I feel this is an important part of building the team as people and not just developers, but if this is significantly work impacting, you should have a conversation with the new member about that specifically. It's interesting you refer to it as an attitude problem when it is more of a style problem.

When it comes to team communications, it is about the whole team. The new member should learn/adjust to work with the existing team, but the existing team also needs to learn/adjust to the new member. The new member being extroverted is not wrong, just different. The team needs to come up with a way to address everyone's styles. What would happen if you added another extroverted individual? The balance would shift again and the whole team needs to adjust.

Part of the role of the team lead is to help the team work through these issues, and keep everyone functioning successfully.

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  • I understand and appreciate your answer, in my case it's just my team, and being an introvert myself I would like to hire people who I know would agree with the way I do things (when it comes to communication). I am indeed trying to find a solution, but the primary cause for the complaints are that he talks too much, and just telling him to "talk less" could give him grounds for discriminatory firing down the road. Why would I fire him just for speaking too much ? I can't find a way to make him shut up.
    – Or4ng3h4t
    Commented Apr 23 at 17:36
  • Just a little tangent, but I used attitude in a different context from the USA, it just refers to his attitude as to the WHEN he speaks
    – Or4ng3h4t
    Commented Apr 23 at 17:37
  • IANAL and IANHR, but I think making it about what he is communicating (non-work) vs how he is communicating(voice vs email) would make it non-discriminatory
    – cdkMoose
    Commented Apr 23 at 17:43
  • When it comes to hiring, where do you draw the line between works like me and incredible software engineer who doesn't work like me?
    – cdkMoose
    Commented Apr 23 at 17:45
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    "I want my team to be my team." It's your employers team that you are asked to lead. Decisions should be based on what's best for the employer and not what's best for you (not always the same). What if the company decide to transfer a strong developer onto your team who was extroverted, would you reject them? How would you adjust?
    – cdkMoose
    Commented Apr 23 at 21:20
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My general recommendation when it comes to this kind of "clash of personalities" and "unwritten rules" is to make sure they are all agreed upon and formalized.

With that I mean that the full team has a meeting to discuss their expectations on work environment and ways of working and what their reasoning is. BUT importantly, approach this as an open discussion for all, rather than just iterating the old rules. Those old rules was for the "old team", what rules do the new team want to have? Are you sure everyone else have the same view as you on this?

Also remember that this is a new employee. It is incredibly difficult to learn the specifics of your software and the problems it seeks to solve if no one is actually talking about things, allowing overhearing. Personally it helps me a lot to contextualize what I am doing to hear people in different roles discuss what they are working on and what issues are reported by customers, etc.

Not really a part of the answer, but I find "I don't really put much value on people" to be a concerning position for a team leader to have.

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  • people come and go, people are replaceable. It's what I mean by that. None of them or me are special or deserve stuff, everything is earned.I'm a team leader the results need to be good, if I was a bad leader we would have a high turnover rate (I think) which isn't the case, I treat everyone fairly.
    – Or4ng3h4t
    Commented Apr 23 at 17:54
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Could it be a matter of arrogance? See Dismantle Anyone's Giant Ego

Also, are you sure this individual is not on the autism spectrum? This person might not be trying to annoy or disrupt others--what is their actual intent? Maybe have more patience and compassion?

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    If the individual is on the spectrum, he refuses to admit (I'm on it, so I personally asked him if that was the case). The intent is what im trying to grasp, he just speaks about his day to day for some reason, like "Yesterday when going home a truck almost hit me, I had to swerve and almost was a goner" . Cool pal want a cookie ?"Maybe have more patience and compassion?" He isn't my friend, or my family, he is a subordinate that in 2 years probably will have moved on.I do not care about him enough to have patience.
    – Or4ng3h4t
    Commented Apr 23 at 17:46
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    Thanks for the reading material, it seems very interesting
    – Or4ng3h4t
    Commented Apr 23 at 17:47

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