How to Handle an Under-Performing Project Team Member

Often when asked to manage a project you can be given an eclectic mix of personalities and be expected to mould them into an effective team.

Equally common is that as a project manager, you don’t usually have total management control over your team members.You share responsibility with the team member’s functional manager.

So how do you best handle the situation when you believe they are not pulling their weight in the team and jeopardising the outcome of the project?

Frequently, a person’s talents drive them to work in certain areas where they excel or enjoy. In other cases, the individual talents of a person and the job performed are simply not aligned. Sometimes this lack of alignment can be overcome with hard work and motivation but on occasion it can’t be. This is when you have to deal with the individual as a performance problem.

However, this doesn’t mean you’re powerless to work with team members who aren’t meeting expectations. In fact, developing and managing team members are key responsibilities of a project manager.

So, how do you deal with the team members that are not meeting expectations? Try this approach.


1. Give immediate feedback

Remember that performance feedback should be provided immediately after you observe a problem. This allows it to have maximum impact.


2. Gather your facts

This feedback shouldn’t be generic or vague. It also shouldn’t be based on what someone else said. The feedback should be based on your observations only. For instance, if the person isn’t meeting deadlines, be prepared to point to several examples of missed deadlines. If they are disruptive, relate specific instances where you observed this behavior.


3. Meet in person

Once you have the facts, have a preliminary performance discussion. There are three targeted objectives to this meeting:

  • To make the employee aware of the perceived performance problem. To be fair, they may not realise that there is a problem.
  • To get the employee’s feedback and response to your observations.
  • To determine a short-term action plan. This is critical and will be the key to turning the performance around.

This discussion is valuable for both the project manager and the team member. There are a number of reasons why a team member’s performance may not be up to expectations.

4. Escalate to the functional manager

It’s been my experience that the preliminary, fact-based discussion was enough to turn the situation around, with there being no need for follow-up. However, if the problems continue, your next course of action is to bring the situation to the attention of the team member’s functional manager.

The functional manager can provide further guidance, and may well have to get involved to try to resolve the problem. For some team members, this might mean being removed from the project team or developing a performance plan. These are options available to the functional manager but usually out of the realm of the project manager.

Performance problems on your project team may not be totally within your control, but you have options. You can work with the team member to try to resolve the situation and then escalate the problem if necessary.


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