How do I handle a talented loner or non-team player on my team?

You must either create a niche that this non-mainstreamer can fill successfully and productively or encourage the individual to modify his or her behavior for the sake of the other members of the team.

To change the individual's non-team behavior, you might play up peer pressure. Although loners may march to the sound of a different drummer, explain that the behavior can cause ill will and negative feelings from other team members. A change would move this person closer to the center of the group, reduce coworkers' resentment, and help to eliminate the uncomfortable us-versus-him attitude that may exist now.

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You may also point out the reality of the situation. While praising the individual's experience, special skills, and length of service, emphasize that everyone is expected to embrace a one-for-all, all-for-one attitude. Anything less threatens the success of the entire work unit and will jeopardize the headstrong employee's job security in a corporate culture that revolves around teamwork.

Alternatively, you can assign your lone rider to work that will further the team's goals without him having to interact closely with other members. For instance, the individual could research problems, locate resources, or evaluate certain projects in advance and recommend actions that the team may take.

There may also be other areas of your organization where a non-team player might fit in. Repeatedly urging a loner to get with the program may only produce friction and resentment. Instead, check out the possibility that he or she might qualify for a job in another area—one that isn't as team-oriented—where the person's talents might be a perfect fit.

How can pulling employees together into a team maintain productivity during tough economic times?

Pulling survivors together into a team can overcome morale problems that occur as a consequence of downsizing. But it isn't easy. You have to communicate a reality to the remaining employees: They have a vested interest in the future success of the organization.

This, by itself, isn't sufficient. Each member will also have personal goals. As a manager, determine what each person needs, then show him or her how working as a member of the team will allow the person to meet that objective. Involve group members by practicing participative management. Including everyone in decision making can encourage collaboration in future successes.

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You can lure traditional loners into the action by defining the benefits of involvement and the special expertise they bring to the group. Don't overlook part-timers, temporary workers, and independent contractors brought into the organization during downsizing, either. They represent an important part of the team and may be able to offer unique perspectives on problems based on their wide experience working for other organizations.

How can I make new hires members of the team from their first day on the job?

Right from the start, condition new team members to believe that they're joining an elite group—that your team is made up of winners, and that they wouldn't be there if they weren't winners too.

To help the new hire feel a part of the team, you might assign an experienced employee who is a strong team player to serve as the new hire's mentor during the newcomer's first few weeks on the job. This provides the new hire with a role model not only in terms of the work but also in terms of his or her place in the group.

Thereafter, build esprit de corps by stressing the accomplish merits of the team and how the new worker's accomplishments are helping the group to do its job.

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Very shortly after a new team member starts work, you might want to call him or her into your office to ask him or her, "What have you observed about how our team operates?" "What do you like about our system?" "What, specifically, don't you like, and how do you suggest we change it?" "Are you getting an idea of what your own strengths or weaknesses are in relation to the team?" "How should the team make the best use of your strengths, and how can we help to improve your weaknesses?" Make the questions open-ended, and phrase them in a way that relates to the team.

Then listen, listen, listen. New members can often see things more clearly than insiders, since they're still viewing things at a distance. Their insights may surprise you. If they're wrong, they're wrong, and you can discount the suggestions—but always let them know that you were glad to hear them. This will make the newcomers feel that they're contributing—that they have as much of a voice as anyone else on the team.

 
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