I have just joined a team as a technical lead. The team consists of a few junior developers who have been working on the project for about a year now. So I am the new guy to the team.
The junior developers have about 1 year experience in the software industry. I have over 9 years of experience. My job is to work with these junior developers, ensure they follow all software development best practices, rely on my prior experience to foresee any technical problems that may come up, discuss them and propose solutions for them in advance, etc. My role is 50% leadership and 50% technical.
I am having some trouble working with one of these developers, let us call him John.
Different people have different opinion about John.
- I find John to be a little unprofessional and uncooperative, e.g. In my opinion, he bullies one the teammates in the meetings by pointing out problems in another person's, say Dave's, work and explicitly stating in front of everyone in a meeting room that he does not want to work with Dave.
- John has clearly explained why he does not want to work with Dave. Dave often used to take decisions that are 180° opposite to a decision made by rest of the team, a decision based on which John was already working on stuff, and Dave used to go ahead and implement the opposite decision without consulting or telling anybody. This meant waste of days or weeks of effort invested by John in his work. This has happened multiple times before I joined the team, as a result John has become fed up.
- Manager does not disclose his personal opinion about John. He wants John and everyone to get along well so that we can get work done. There have been situations where John outright refused to work on a project assigned to him by Manager because Dave is working on the same project. The manager had to spend about 10 minutes trying to convince John and explain him the time constraints after which he reluctantly agreed.
- Some other members of the team think John is blunt. I mean, what I think of as "bullying" is seen as "blunt" and "honest" by others. So I am not quite sure if my assessment of him as somebody who is bullying Dave is correct. Whether "blunt" or "bullying", everyone agrees that his behaviour is an exception in the team.
- Dave has personally expressed it to me that he wants to avoid talking to John as much as possible but wants to get work done.
I find my own interactions with John quite problematic. Two examples below.
- In one occasion when John, Dave and I were taking a technical decision, John appeared visibly unhappy to be a part of the discussion because Dave was involved in the discussion. He said, "You take the decision. Tell me the task. I will develop it." He was not interested to consider the pros and cons and be a part of the decision himself.
- In another occasion when I wanted to know how many tasks he wants to pick up for the current quarter and how much time he needs to complete them, I found him uncooperative. He behaved as he doesn't understand my question and said, "What does your question mean? What number of tasks?" At this point, he got on my nerves too and I clarified what I mean although in the same tone as his. However, he did not give me any numbers. Instead, he said, "You assign the tasks to me and I will complete them."
I want to have a good and productive working relationship with John. But I don't know what the right approach is. Of the various approaches I have been considering, some are.
- Appear stern and no-nonsense guy to John so that he is careful with his words and behaviour while interacting with me.
- Be myself, ignore his tantrums, assign work to him and mark his work as done only if the work meets my expectations.
- Try to build a relationship with him with occasional small talk etc. To be honest, since I was thrown into this team on a very short notice, I did not get sufficient time to build a relationship with him, although I have managed to do so with other teammates because the other teammates are more friendly and more available in the office.
I am not quite sure what the right approach is in such a situation.
Have you had to deal with a subordinate like this? How did you deal with it? What advice do you have for me?
Note: Criticism about John or suggestions to fire John is counterproductive and is against the spirit in which I wrote this question. John is very new to software industry. He is a bright kid and very talented. Of course, he has some ego. I was once a newbie to the industry too with my own ego and I was probably obnoxious then. But I have grown to become a more objective and less egoistic developer over 9 years. I am sure John would grow and become more matured with time. My question is focused on how to deal with this situation currently.