I lead a team that reviews technical documentation in an industrial environment. The team consists of subject matter experts from different fields (electrical, instrumentation, etc) who review submitted documents and make minor corrections to metadata or bounce the document back to the originator for content changes. Once documents are in acceptable condition content and metadata wise they are added to the controlled document set. This SME role has a bit of a learning curve to it but most of the team found their feet in it after a few weeks.

I have one team member who, while present, was not active in the discussions for defining how the role would work and keeps complaining about the role rather than putting in the practice to get to the level of the rest of the team.

I have repeatedly offered coaching sessions but as I'm not this person's line manager I'm not in a position to dictate their use of time. I am willing to go to their line manager if needed but I would prefer to handle it between us if I can.

How can you convince someone that some difficult task will be manageable with practice?

  • It's not really an answer as such but introduce the concept of the Positive Mindset vs the Fixed Mindset. That it doesn't matter if you can't do something, you should instead measure your progress to achieving it. On my desk, I have the word "yet" on a laminated card. Whenever I get stuck on something and think "I have no idea how to ...", I mentally add the word "yet" to the end of the sentence. Cheesy? A little. But it's worked wonders for me.
    – Dave M
    Mar 18, 2016 at 15:37
  • Unfortunately you can't really force this person to cooperate
    – AndreiROM
    Mar 18, 2016 at 15:39
  • You lead a team that you don't manage? Is this a working group with employees from multiple teams?
    – Lilienthal
    Mar 18, 2016 at 15:45
  • @Lilienthal Yes we have members from a wide variety of places in the organization. I'm not sure of the exact distinction between a team and a working group. Locally it is referred to as a cross functional team but it very well could be a working group. Based on the definition linked below it could go either way. dummies.com/how-to/content/…
    – Myles
    Mar 18, 2016 at 17:36
  • Who is responsible for this person and why aren't they aware of their lack of productivity?
    – user8365
    Mar 18, 2016 at 18:07

5 Answers 5


If you aren't their manager, and they need to be managed, an unofficial talk with their manager may help. "You put X on the team, buy there's this issue... Do you want to assign someone else, or do you want to do a bit of persuading, or is there another way we can get what the team needs?"


Easy. First, start a conversation, and get it in writing. This gives you a time marker for how long you've been waiting, and gives an undeniable statement of work expected.

Hi SME. Excited to have the chance to work with you. Here is the list of documents that I need you to review: 1,2, 3, etc. Usually this takes about XX minutes per document, so the whole set should take around Y hours. Due to [externality], I would like to have these in the control system by no later than this [date].

Chances are he'll complain. That's fine. Complainers gotta complain. When he responds with a list of gripes, be graceful but firm. Simply say:

Hi SME. I understand your concerns, thank you for sharing them with me. You are concerned that review step X takes too long, and that comment step Y is inconvenient. I agree that the process is not perfect. However, the rest of the team has their documents completed using the current system, and for the present I do not wish to change the procedure that we have already started. Please complete your documents by [date].

After a few rounds using the system as outlined, we will have a review meeting and talk about what works well, and what needs changing. It'd be great to have you attend that meeting so we can get your input.

If the date above is impossible, please let me know promptly so that I can ask [his manager's name] to assign someone else from [field of expertise].

After that, it should just take the occasional reminder. As the deadline approaches, if he is still avoiding and complaining, perhaps send a more direct reminder and CC his boss -- preferably on the same email thread as your previous communications so the boss can see you've been asking for a while.


Cc: [Boss]

Message: Hi SME, I noticed today that you haven't completed any documents. I realize that you are very busy, so please let me know if we need to get someone else assigned.

Best regards, Myles

It's not your job to win SME over, or make him a champion of the process. At the end of the day, you just need the work done, or for his manager to assign someone else. Get it in writing, be polite, and don't involve his boss until it is apparent that he cannot or will not meet the deadline. Chances are, once he does it a few times, he will realize it's not so bad -- or maybe he'll suggest some genuinely helpful improvements on the next committee meeting. But at this point, you just need to get him (or someone) started.


Sometimes you have to play hardball with people. You have tried getting him in involved from the beginning and he didn't have any input but has done nothing but complain and not use the systems since. This has clearly gone on for weeks since yo said that was how long ti took others to get up to speed. Insubordinate actions have consequences, he needs to realize that. The new system decisions have been made, he is either on board or he is gone.

I would go to a private space with him and tell him that the new system is in place, the time for complaining about it is past and he will either use it from now on or you will be discussing the issue with his line boss.

I would make it clear that failure to use the system from now on would mean he would either have the task assigned to someone else with a note in his personnel folder about his failure to cooperate or he would be put on a Performance improvement plan with possible firing if transferring the task to someone else is not possible.

If he doesn't start using it then, I would immediately go to his line boss and insist that he be formally reprimanded for insubordination.


It sounds like your team member doesn't understand the importance of the role or the role's deliverables. Perhaps explaining the reasons for why it is in the team's best interest for him/her to contribute like the other SMEs will inspire your team member to work. Else, you should have a casual discussion with the PM about it. And it doesn't hurt to document the events leading up to such a discussion over email. Even if you just ask the PM how to approach motivating this team member, bringing up the situation will CYA a bit because the PM will know that you took measures to improve the success of your team.


You are team lead, it's your place to talk to the manager if there are issues which you don't have the authority to fix. It's not your place to spend a bunch of time and useless energy as most other answers seem to be suggesting.

Tell the staff member what they need to do in a meeting with everyone else, re-iterating whatever they may have missed, and directing your talk to the whole team, not the individual.

If there's still a problem after that, talk to the manager, and let them sort it, it's their job.

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