When you write a book and a blog about healthy teams, you pretty much see the whole world through that lens. I’m sure this is annoying to my friends who sometimes want to just have a good vent without me doling out advice and encouragement on how to handle the situation.
That’s what happened today when I bumped into my friend Samantha (name changed to protect the innocent) while we were both dropping off our kids at dance class.
Sam was miffed. To meet today’s report deadline, she had worked every evening last week and then again over the weekend. Unfortunately, her coworker hadn’t finished her part. That meant the reports weren’t done. But rather than face the music, the coworker called in sick and sent the reports in a trickle throughout the day.
It’s your standard slacker coworker story. But it’s the worst kind of slacker coworker story because the coworker happens to be friends with the boss. That sucks!
No doubt this is an extra prickly situation, so here are a few things to keep in mind:
1. Start with a positive assumption. That’s always my rule #1. Maybe the person isn’t a slacker at all. Maybe the weekend was spent with the stomach flu and the reports didn’t get finished. Give the person the benefit of the doubt.
2. If your positive assumption doesn’t pan out, DO NOT pass judgment or complain about your coworker to the boss. That just puts the boss in a position to try to defend his friend.
3. Don’t make the mistake of taking up the slack. That will just mask the problem. Instead, do your part well and let the ball drop. I know it’s scary, but if you finish the work, the slacker has got you fooled and there’s almost no chance it will turn out differently the next time.
4. Deal directly with the coworker in question. Share the impact that their behavior is having on you. “When the reports were due on Monday and we didn’t have your section, I felt like I was missing the deadline, which makes me really uncomfortable. How could we manage the report writing differently in the future?”
5. When interacting with the boss, describe the issues objectively and stick to the facts. “Here are the incomplete reports. My sections are completed.” Don’t give in to the temptation to add any more to that sentence. Bite your tongue before you blurt out “because Bob didn’t BOTHER to finish them over the weekend!”
6. If you decide you need to say something about your coworker to the boss, ask for advice or coaching for yourself. “I’m struggling on the projects where I have to work with Bob. I know you and Bob are friends. What advice would you give me to work more effectively with him? How do you find he works best?”
In my experience, the boss usually knows that the friend is not passing muster. It’s as difficult (or more difficult) a situation for the boss as it is for you. If you take the high road, it’s likely that the slacker will eventually be seen for what he/she is. Bosses don’t like to have to compensate for weak links for long. More importantly, you will also be seen for what you are: a grown-up who takes your role on the team seriously.
[Today’s fun fact: The origins of the phrase pass muster on Wikipedia.]