What to do when you don’t like your team member?
I was working in a team a few years ago. I was the Scrum Master of the team, and the team existed out of developers and testers. There was one developer that I did not click with. I just didn’t like him. I would definitely not go to have a drink with him in a pub. I did not like to have small talk with him. I tried to avoid him outside the team. I realized diversity in a team is good, but sometimes it is just too much diversity. A few years later, when I looked back at the team I started to think about it. Why did I not like him? What effort did I make to like him? What could I have done differently? I did some reading, self-reflection, and talked with other people. In this blog post, I would like to share my learnings. It could help you the next time you have a team member that you don’t like.
Learning #1 – Think about what kind of relationship you would like to have.
You are in a team to create value for the stakeholders, and you are not in the team to become friends forever. My first learning was to think about what kind of relationship I would like to have with team members. This depends on many things. When I know the team will be together for a long time, I want to invest more time in relationships and get to know each other well. When I know upfront I am part of a team with a mission that will finish in a few weeks; I will focus less on relationships. I will focus on getting things done with the team. It is, therefore, also important to understand what your motivations are. Is relatedness important for you? If so, you may want to invest more in the relationship and hang out with team members outside work hours.
Learning #2 – You need to understand yourself in order to understand others
I like structure, and I like things to be organized. Seeing a desktop that is cluttered with files…arrrghh. How can you work like that? I like hanging out with people who think alike and value things as I do. However, I also learned that not everyone is like me. By understanding myself, I realized that people connecting to my values are easier for me to connect with. People not aligned with my values sometimes are harder to connect with. That doesn’t say anything about those people. It says more about me. By understanding myself, I can better understand why I like some people.
Learning #3 – What was the first disconnect?
We judge a new person in seconds. In seconds we already have an opinion about the person. This was very convenient many thousands of years ago. We had to make a decision if a person or situation was dangerous, and it was better to be on the safe side than make a mistake. However, nowadays, we are (at least we think) more rational, and we can change how we perceive someone with rational thinking. When you meet a new team member, you will often be open and not dislike him from the beginning. However, at one moment, you realize you don’t like this person. Stop thinking at that moment! Try to recall what happened that you did not like this person. What is something he said or did? Think back to that moment, and try to look at it from a 3rd person perspective. Did you connect certain feelings to that moment? Try to look at the facts and separate facts from emotions. Maybe he did something with good intentions, but you made it something bad because of your personal experiences from the past?
Learning #4 – Be curious
I am not good at small talk. I will be honest about that. Although that is not true, I am not good at small talk with people I don’t connect with. If I can do small talk and connect with people I like, why can’t I do small talk with people I don’t connect with? That made me realize you should be curious about the other person. Find common ground, something you both like. I had a colleague that I could not connect with. I tried small talk and asked about his kids, but the conversation never started until he asked me about my phone. “Ralph, you have a Pixel phone, nice.” That was the hook I was looking for! It turned out he also had a Pixel phone and also a user of Chromebooks, just like me. We had some good talks about Pixel phones, the pros and cons, and the same about ChromeOS. That made me realize there is always a common ground between team members. For example, you work in the same department or company and care about the same team goal. Ask questions, be curious, and find common ground.
Learning #5 – Talk about it
This learning is a challenging one. If you have a team member you don’t like, and despite all your effort, it is still not working for you. Talk about it with your colleague. I am aware this will require trust and a safe environment. Also, you need to prepare for the talk. You can’t just say that you don’t like him. You need to understand yourself and review the facts of what could have caused this feeling. In this talk, you should focus on how you perceive the relationship between him and you. Also, tell him what kind of relationship you would like to have. This is a difficult thing to do, and when not prepared well or when there is no safe environment, it could make things worse even. However, if you can talk about it, this is probably the most action you can take.
Learning #6 – Focus on the team goal
In the end, you are not part of a team to make friends forever. You are part of a team to create value. There should be trust, and you should have a connection with team members, but it is important to also focus on the team goal. When, despite all the learnings I shared, the relationship is still challenging, focus on the team goal. The team goal is something you have in common. Accept you find it hard to like the person, but try to set aside those feelings and focus on the team goal. When the team realizes the team goal, there is something to celebrate, and this may also bring you closer to each other.
There are six learnings I have learned dealing with team members that I don’t like that much. Applying those learnings helped me to improve. However, sometimes it also not helped, and I realized I should just focus on the team goal.
How did it end the developer I didn’t like? It never became a good relationship from my side, and I just focussed on realizing the team goal.