Have you ever been on a project where it feels as though someone is unwittingly playing defense against a successful outcome. Either they are doing things that actively run counter to the group or are doing things poorly that require others to pick up their slack. I do not mean those who are trying to tank a project, I mean those whose incompetence on the project produces a result indistinguishable from sabotage. What do you do with this member if you are not responsible for assembling the team?
Generally in this situation there are a few basic options:
- Advocate for that person to be removed from the team.
Now there there are different ways to go about this. I don’t recommend advocating to the whole group in the middle of a meeting in the presence of this individual. This may produce results, but it also produces the undeniable perception that you are a total douche. Instead I recommend speaking with whoever was responsible for staffing the project. Approach them one on one and be fair but straight forward in your words. Above all make sure it does not come off like you simply don’t like the incompetent individual, even if that happens to be true.
- Assign them work of the lowest importance.
If the above option is unavailable for whatever reason, or if you would rather not pursue it, you can always change the kind of work assigned. Perhaps this person can schedule and build agendas for meetings. They can take notes and follow up with people. Perhaps there are work streams that are “nice to haves” rather than “must haves”. This requires a bit of the benign deception and people skills that make many managers great, the ability to decrease someone’s importance to a project without them feeling slighted enough to blow up.
- Mentor them to bring up their performance.
I personally feel this is the ideal state, but because of that it of course is the most difficult to bring to fruition. It would be excellent if you could bring someone from dead weight to contributor while they are on your project. In order for that to happen three things must be true: the participant must be willing, the mentor must have at least a little skill in teaching others, and there must be enough time. This is the calculus that you must perform if you want to pursue this option. Is this person willing and do we have anyone able to bring them along in time for the value to be recognized in this project? That is a tricky and situational decision, but the rewards offered if successful should make this a consideration each time.
- Stop assigning them work.
I personally find this to be a bit passive aggressive, but some may see it as the only possibility in their circumstance. This is pretty self explanatory, you simply stop assigning work to them, or have someone always paired with them who is actually responsible for the work. This has a high risk of turning the incompetent member of your team into a disgruntled member of your team. That can cause friction in the working environment that may spill over, so caution is required if you decide to go with this approach.
Obviously this is not some panacea, but by weighing out the options available you can drive the result that provides the best outcome for a given situation. Always consider the risks that accompany each solution and take mitigating action at the same time you start to implement your solution.