Dealing With Two Different Extremes
Engineering Manager at TEADS
It is normal to deal with two different extreme personalities in work and life. How problematic the situation may get is all it is about. I had a team of 7 people, where 2 of them were juniors (literally, they just started). One of them was a technical athlete, but did not have adequate soft skills while unwilling to improve himself from that perspective. The other one was the complete opposite; not so good in terms of technical skills, but a pro with their soft skills. They were appreciated for their soft skill talent company-wide.
Now what happens when these two people are given to work together in the same team? As expected: a conflict. I explained the expectations from them repeatedly, and what aspects they could improve themselves to perform better. After enough back and forth, I realized that the problem was actually the second person. Clearly, they were an underperformer, while the other person was fully dedicated to working hard. Eventually, the tech expert improved his soft skills, too. Later, I also realized that the problem was very much provoked by jealousy.
To begin with, I took responsibility for the objectives of the team. We reviewed the goals and deliverables expected from each team member every week. Everything was going at a mediocre level. From my end, I made all the improvements to help them out, which required a lot of my time, energy and motivation. My goal was to become a manager whom they could trust and rely on. Once I achieved the trust, I patiently discussed their personal and professional affairs openly with them.
When I started working with them as tech lead, I spent a lot of time with the under-performer, leaving the other one with the rest of the team. I decided to include him in the same process, but the skill difference was huge and led to personal conflicts. Moving forward, I separated them into different projects. They were always working in my team, but the difference was on various subjects. They worked closely with other senior developers, who helped them learn how they were expected to work on each task. I had to give negative feedback to the expert and warn him severely on his communication.Hence, I separated both of them. It was better to understand the real problem in that way and improve on each case.
Now it was time to deal with the team as a whole and manage the situation as we were lagging behind in the company. Again, trust was the key to touch every area while making decisions for everyone. Finally, two quarters later, the team performed above and beyond, without having the underperformer in the team. It was time for me to make a final decision regarding this, so I reached out to the HR team for further help.
I improvised the weekly meetings with the team. I took careful notes to see what was going well and what was not, and how I could improve difficult situations. As a result, I advised everyone to become proactive on thoughtful actions. Specifically for the person who had exceptional technical skills, I worked with him on his communication skills. I would give him a day to a week to improve on his actions. I did understand it was difficult for him to change his mindset, but then he did come off with better ideas and at last became a team spirit.
- You cannot manage two people simultaneously. It would be best if you adapt yourself to the way you can manage them. Everyone in a team is a gem with different skills, expectations and values. They adjust in distinct ways and learn through various ways to communicate with each other and work towards a common goal. Weekly meetings are a key to team success.
- Be clear in the expectation and make sure that the expectation is understood. It must be easy to clarify. For example, one of them said she understood, and then a week later, something was not understood and led to impaired delivery. She did not ask, and I had to make sure that it was understood perfectly. Reformulation is essential. I had spent time with them to reformulate.
- Motivation is another key to success. Each person needs to be driven towards their role, instead of expecting them to work towards the goals themselves. A little push from the manager goes a long way. A sustainable pace is key to a well balanced work life and long term skills improvements.
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