How to Deal with “Difficult & Disruptive Team Members” ? | by: Linda Finkle | Incedo Group

One of the biggest challenges with any team is difficult and disruptive team members… It’s not simply that they are on the team, it’s that we don’t know how to effectively deal with them. Too often our solution is to ignore the problem and hope it gets better. Or we say something to them in a way that creates another problem, they become angry or upset; and doesn’t solve the problem we set out to correct in the first place.

Do you have to suffer in silence or is there any way to effectively deal with these difficult and disruptive team members? Are these people simply thorns in your side, and in the side of the rest of the team or do they have something to offer ??

What Does Disruptive or Difficult Mean ?

Depending on the makeup of the team difficult or disruptive can be different. For example: Most people would agree that someone who constantly is negative and tells everyone why the idea won’t work is difficult. And most would concur that a team member who constantly interrupts others while they are speaking is disruptive. Yet in some situations team members that never voice their opinion are viewed as difficult as they aren’t contributing and on teams they would be seen as easy going. For today’s article though I want to use some common language so when I get to the ‘how’ part it will be more valuable.

Disruptive means to cause a disturbance or break (as in communication or actions). We often refer to people who are disruptive as troublemakers, unruly and distracting. Difficult means hard to deal with or satisfy. We use words to describe these people such as challenging, demanding, problematic, unbending or defiant. In both cases they are seen as individuals who cause problems, hinder progress or obstruct advancement towards a goal.

Are These People Able to Change ?

Maybe they can and maybe they can’t but that isn’t the right question to ask. The truth is we can’t change another human being. As parents we might have some influence on our children but after a certain age even our influence on them wanes. We can however change ourselves and when we do our interactions with other people will be different. Then as a result we may see some changes in others.

Instead of focusing on asking if they can change perhaps we should consider TWO different questions :

  1. What contribution can these people make ?
  2. In what ways can I work with them more effectively ?

What Contributions Can They Make ?

I know it’s tough to imagine what contributions these difficult and disruptive team members can make but I promise you they do. Consider the following :

  • Different point of view –  Having someone with a different viewpoint opens the team up to consider other options they may not have considered.
  • Points out possible challenges – It’s easy to move forward without considering the challenges or potential risks. Having someone who brings these to the conversation can save the team problems later on.
  • Stirs the Pot – Complacency can be the death of a team. When someone is stirring the pot it helps gets others engaged.
  • Quality standards – The demanding team member can actually bring forth a higher standard of quality and end result.

Every team member can make a contribution if we let them. It may be that we have to first reassess how we see them before we can appreciate their contribution.

Managing These Folks: 

Sometimes we have to ask ourselves why they are difficult or disruptive. Maybe they feel like they aren’t heard. Perhaps they don’t know how to get their ideas across so it’s a communication issue. If we take the time to consider why they are acting the way they are we may find a new way of thinking about how to manage them. Here are some other ideas to help you :

  • Set ground rules for the team. Explain what is acceptable in terms of interruptions, sharing ideas, how to communicate etc. This not only helps minimize the problems, it gives you a place to go back to when problems occur. You can always remind them of the ground rules.
  • Give everyone a chance to share. Sometimes it’s just about being heard so allowing everyone to share, and making sure everyone does reduces the need to be disruptive.
  • Use my “wait” idea. I have a sign I created that is a stop sign with the word ‘WAIT’ on it. That stands for ‘why am I talking’. I often take it into meetings and tell people they should consider this before speaking.
  • Discuss the problem off line. If someone continues to be disruptive or difficult you have to take this conversation out of the meeting. Have a one-on-one meeting and tell them what you see and what you want differently from them.
  • Don’t give up. It’s easy to simply talk over them or interrupt them and move on to someone else. Resist that tendency and keep working with them. Don’t assume one or two or even three conversations will resolve the problem. There is a point where you may have to make a change but don’t give up too easily.

Managing difficult or disruptive team members starts with how you see them…Have you already decided they aren’t worth your time or they can’t change so why bother? Are you seeing them as adding no value and only as problematic and an obstacle ? If so you are part of the problem not the solution. Start by shifting your own beliefs and see what happens as a result…

(Linda Finkle, a Certified  Coach, helps get rid of the elephant lurking in the corner of your business to clear the way so you and your staff can tackle real business challenges. She is also a specialist at improving your ROI at any cost, creating clear communication and helping you and your employees enjoy your job. For information, go to

The “SEVEN Skills” You Need to “Thrive in the C-Suite”| by: Boris Groysberg | HBR

What executive skills are most prized by companies today?  How has that array of skills changed in the last decade, and how is it likely to change in the next ten years?

To find out, I surveyed senior consultants in 2010 at a top-five global executive-search firm. Experienced search consultants typically interview hundreds (in many cases thousands) of senior executives; they assess those executives’ skills, track them over time, and in some cases place the same executive in a series of jobs. They also observe how executives negotiate, what matters most to them in their contracts, and how they decide whether to change companies.

Here are the SEVEN “C-level” skills & traits companies prize most :

  1. Leadership – The skills cited as most indispensable for C-level executives—not just CEOs—are those that jointly constitute leadership. One consultant described the search for a chief information officer in these terms: “Whereas technical expertise was previously paramount, these competencies [being sought today] are more about leadership skills than technical ones.” The consultants differed on the type of leadership most highly in demand, mentioning “inspirational leadership,” “leadership in a non-authoritarian manner that works with today’s executive talent,” “take-charge” leadership, “leadership balanced with authenticity, respect for others, and trust building,” and “strategic leadership.” Ethical leadership was also mentioned. Some consultants observed that the type of leadership sought depends on a company’s specific needs. “Visionary leadership is frequently mentioned when a company is on a new path, adopting a new strategy, or at a tipping point in its growth,” one respondent noted. Another said, “Driving an organization or function to a higher level of performance, efficiency, or growth requires a ‘take-charge’ leadership.” One consultant predicted that firms in 2020 will seek the “same [attributes as in 2010] but with an even greater appreciation for the intangibles of leadership and [for experience] having led a business through tough times.”

  1. Strategic thinking and Execution – “Strategic foresight”— the ability to think strategically, often on a global basis—was also frequently cited. One consultant stressed the ability to “set the strategic direction” for the organization; another equated strategic thinking with “integrative leadership.”  Others emphasized that strategic thinking also calls for the ability to execute a vision, which one respondent called “operating savvy” and another defined as “a high standard in execution.” One consultant pointed out that strategic thinking is a relatively new requirement for many functional C-level executives, and another noted that the surge in attention to strategic thinking occurred in the decade 2000–2010.
  1. Technical and technology skills – The third most frequently cited requirement for C-level executives was technical skills—specifically, deep familiarity with the particular body of knowledge under their auspices, such as law, financials, or technology. Many respondents stressed technology skills and technical literacy. “A C-level executive needs to understand how technology is impacting their organization and how to exploit technology,” one respondent asserted. Others stressed financial acumen and “industry-specific content knowledge.” In contrast to popular wisdom, many technical skills are not declining but increasing in importance.
  1. Team- and relationship-building – Many consultants emphasized team-related skills: building and leading teams and working collegially. “A world-class leader must be able to hire and develop an exceptionally strong leadership team—he/she cannot succeed as a brilliant one-person player,” one asserted. Another said that today’s executive must be “more interested and skilled in developing his/her team, less self-oriented.” Executives no longer sit behind closed doors,” one consultant said; instead they must be “team-oriented, capable of multitasking continuously, leading without rank, resisting stress, ensuring that subordinates do not suffer burnout—and do all of this with a big smile in an open-plan office.” One consultant characterized the entire company as a team and described the executive’s job as “leading and developing the company’s team, from the leadership down to the ‘troops.’”
  1. Communication and presentation – Collectively, the consultants said the ideal C-suite candidate possesses the power of persuasion and excellent presentation skills—which one consultant called “the intellectual capability to interact with a wide variety of stakeholders.” This is a tall order because there are many more stakeholders now than before. Speaking convincingly to the concerns of varied audiences— knowledgeable and unsophisticated, internal and external, friendly and skeptical—calls for mental deftness and stylistic versatility. Some consultants emphasized that a strong candidate should be “board-ready”; others emphasized the ability to “influence the direction of a business and the front office” and to achieve “organizational buy-in.” And C-level executives must also be adept at communicating externally. “Presentation skills have become key to success,” one consultant said, “and will continue to be of increasing importance in the future, as the media, governments, employees, shareholders and regulators take an ever-increasing interest in what occurs in big business.” Another warned that executives need to be “good at making presentations in front of a ‘tough audience.’” Finally, C-level executives must be adept in receiving and synthesizing information.
  1. Change-management – Virtually unacknowledged and under-appreciated until quite recently, change-management skills are in growing demand. Consultants noted rising demand for an executive who is a “change driver,” able to “lead a transformation/change agenda” and capable of “driving transformational change.”One thoughtful consultant said that, as a job specification, change management typically has less to do with driving drastic firm-wide change than with being at ease with constant flux. “This requires a ‘change-agent’ executive,” he noted, “motivated by a continuous-improvement mindset, a sense of always upgrading organizations, building better processes and systems, improving commercial relationships, increasing market share, and developing leadership.” Another consultant noted that a firm seeking an executive who can engineer change often opts for an external candidate on the grounds that an external hire can bring “a new skill set that can lead to significant change and growth.”
  1. Integrity – Although not skills per se, “Integrity & a reputation for ethical conduct” are highly valued, according to the consultants we surveyed. One said that hiring companies want “unquestioned ethics.” Another remarked that ethical conduct was not explicitly sought in the past but would be front and center going forward: “Personal integrity and ethical behavior . . . are far more important now because of the speed of communication.” Another said that “organizations are more attuned to the ‘acceptability’ of senior hires, be it to regulators, investors or governments.”

We also asked the executive-search consultants how the most highly prized C-level skills have changed over time and what further change they foresee. The first clear theme that emerged is the importance of a global outlook and meaningful international experience. Already the foremost emerging skill over the past decade, a global orientation is apt to become even more dominant going forward.

Another striking theme was the demise of the star culture. Being a team player—working well with others—matters more and is expected to grow in importance. Team skills and change-management skills tied for second place among those considered crucial today but largely ignored ten years ago.  One consultant shared a telling anecdote: “Recently I was called to find the new CEO of a local branch of an international company. The former CEO was fired because his management team decided he was too bossy and did not allow them opportunities for growth. They brought these concerns to the top level of the company, and the decision was to replace him.”

Many consultants said that technical skills—once the prime goal of executive searches—are still important but have become merely a baseline requirement.  Because the repertoire of obligatory executive skills has grown in scope, some said, both hard and soft requirements have expanded accordingly. Executives who neglect their technical skills might be passed over. In fast changing global economy, dated technical skills can hamper resource-allocation and strategic decisions.

What skills do you think executives need to be successful now and what skills will they need in 2020? What are you doing to be ready to be hired in ten years? We would love to hear; please share your ideas with us..