Intervene with Disruptive Team Members Offline

Posted by Kristin Arnold on October 12, 2021

So there you are…one particular team member is keeping the team from making progress.  You have tried to gracefully intervene, using escalating levels of interventions.  But the disrupter still doesn’t get it.  This one person is the source of the team’s inability to proceed.

You must talk with this person about his or her performance.  However, team leaders and team members will avoid confronting the issue or the person and will attempt all kinds of ways to deal with the problem indirectly.  Unfortunately, none of these approaches work well.

To successfully intervene offline and resolve the situation:

Start with a “Micro-yes.”  Begin by asking the other person for permission to “share some observations” – in other words, give them some feedback

Be direct and to the point.  If you have a problem, say so directly to the person, using the rules of feedback.

Be specific about what the problem is.  State the facts as you observed it – versus hearsay and what others told you. 

Share impact.  Clearly share how that behavior impacts you and how you believe it affects the team dynamics.

Stay cool.  Be positive in your tone and non-verbals.  Angry, accusatory behavior will make the other person defensive and compelled to justify their actions.

Get commitment.  Ask a simple question in an open, non-accusatory tone of voice in order to generate conversation and mutual problem-solving.  Ask something like, “Well, how do you see it?” or “This is what I’m thinking we should do, but what are your thoughts on it?”  Give the other person a chance to respond.  Listen and do not interrupt. Ask questions to clarify what the other person said.

End on a positive note.  Reaffirm the strengths the member brings to the team and how you both agree to resolve the issue.

Intervene Offline with Horsepower

So let’s say that you have tried to resolve the issue one-on-one; however, the disruptive team member is not cooperating.  If time permits, call on the “horsepower” — those folks “up the food chain” that can influence the disrupter’s behavior.  The team champion, team member supervisors, or a highly respected authority may just be able to provide the insight the disrupter needs to become productive.

As you appeal to these key influential people to intervene on behalf of the team:

Be very specific.  Tell the influencers what has happened and what you need for them to do.  For example: “For the last four meetings, John has arrived fifteen minutes late to the meeting and has not completed his tasks assigned.  This is keeping the team from achieving our goal on time.  Could you please speak with him and let him know just how important his contribution is?  We really need him to be on time and to come prepared.”

Keep it simple.  Don’t overwhelm them with details, just limit your discussion to the facts.  Otherwise, your “horsepower” may get sucked into the melodrama, trying to guess what really happened.

Get commitment.  Ask for their help and support in correcting this disruptive behavior as soon as possible.  

End on a positive note.  Reaffirm the strengths the member brings to the team and how you want to see the issue resolved.

My hope is that you don’t have an issue escalate to the point where you need to intervene offline or bring in leadership, but now you know what to do!


KRISTIN ARNOLD, MBA, CPF | Master, CSP is a high-stakes meeting facilitator and professional panel moderator.  She’s been facilitating teams of executives and managers in making better decisions and achieving greater results for over 27 years.  She is the author of the award-winning book, Boring to Bravo: Proven Presentation Techniques to Engage, Involve and Inspire Audiences to Action.  Her latest book, 123 Ways to Add Pizazz to a Panel Discussion was published in January 2021.

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Photo by Christina @ on Unsplash

KRISTIN ARNOLD, MBA, CSP, CPF|Master has been facilitating meaningful conversations between executives and managers to make better decisions and achieve extraordinary results for 25+ years. She's a leading authority on moderating panel discussions and passionate about finding the perfect olive to complement a vodka martini.

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