6 tips for working with someone who isn't a team player

Working with someone who isn't a team player is not only frustrating, it can impair the entire team's performance. In healthcare, where team-based care is central to efforts to improve coordination and collaboration among providers, the repercussions can be severe for both patients and hospitals.

Here's how to work with a colleague who isn't carrying his or her weight as a team player, according to a recent article in the Harvard Business Review.

1. Don't make assumptions. Before jumping to conclusions and attributing a coworker's poor teamwork to their personality or work style, do some exploration. It's possible the individual is dealing with a personal stressful situation that is contributing to distraction or diminished performance at work, according to the report. Or perhaps they are dealing with work pressures you don't know about. It's important to avoid dismissing the person as a slacker or coming up with your own explanations for their behavior, "especially if it involves attributing bad motives to them," said Allan Cohen, PhD, a professor of management at Babson College in Babson Park, Mass., and author of Influence Without Authority, according to the report.

2. Talk to the individual. Start a dialogue with the team member in question, but approach him or her with friendly questions, not accusations. Helpful questions that indicate your support for the individual could include: "What else are you working on right now?" or "What motivates you the most?" according to the report.

3. Be inclusive. The issue of a disengaged team member could become exacerbated if the team decides to shun the person who isn't carrying his or her weight, according to the article. To promote better cohesion, ask the person out for coffee or lunch and try to get to know him or her better, and bring a few other coworkers along.

4. Clarify the team's mission. An uncooperative team member may indicate that something is off with the group. Perhaps the team's approach isn't working or the mission isn't clear enough. Revisit the group's shared vision and mission and clarify best methods for fulfilling them.

5. Clearly define team members' roles. "Don't assume everybody knows exactly what their contribution is supposed to be," said Dr. Cohen. It's possible the person who hasn't been acting as a team player simply does not understand what he or she is meant to do.

6. Create new opportunities to motivate. An employee may seem withdrawn from their work because they desire new opportunities to grow and develop their skills, according to the report. If that seems to be the case, see if there is a more suitable role for this individual on the team. It's also possible to give them other informal roles to better showcase their skills or offer new learning opportunities, according to the report.

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