How To Deal With the Renegade Team Member

Written by lewsauder

August 13, 2014

renegade team member

Do you have a renegade team member?

Every once in a while – maybe even more often than that – you experience a renegade team member who wants to do things his way rather than what you’ve tried to set as the norm. When this happens, the project manager has to decide whether to act and what to do if they decide to act.

The first thing the project manager needs to decide is whether the “renegade” activity is unhealthy or undesirable. Too often, project managers see someone acting outside of the norm and attempt to reign them in before determining the consequences.

Renegade Team Member Case Study

Jill is managing a project using an agile approach in which each team member places “sticky notes” on the wall to provide visibility to the team on what each person is working on.

Mike is running about a day and a half behind on his tasks because of a task that took longer to test than he expected. Chandra is ahead of schedule with his tasks. As a result, he took on one of Mike’s tasks to help the team catch up.

In the next day’s stand-up meeting, Chandra announced the task transfer and stated that he is about half-way done with it. This was the first time Jill was made aware of the change.

How would you handled that situation as a project manager?

Many PMs would label Chandra as a renegade for changing task assignments without the project manager’s input and approval. Hopefully Jill realizes that an iteration (or sprint) in agile is a team effort. As long as the team completes their collective tasks on time, it really doesn’t matter who completes which task.  The team should have the sovereignty to make those decisions without the need for permission from the project manager.

It may come down to a question of leadership vs. management. If the project manager focuses on the leadership side, she will commend Chandra for taking on the additional effort. The PM who focuses more on management (or more specifically, micromanagement) will require the team to involve her on every minor decision.

Minor Infractions

There are true renegades that require the PM’s involvement. Some renegade behavior may be seen as minor, but needs to be dealt with before it becomes a bigger issue. Holding side conversations during meetings or arriving late to meetings may be seen as a mere annoyance and part of a company’s culture. If the behavior isn’t stopped early, it also becomes part of the project culture.

A PM who wants to avoid this would be well served to address it as soon as it is done more than once. This should be done in private in a friendly manner. Saying something like “Before this becomes a consistent habit, I want to address this. I noticed that you have arrived late to meetings a couple of times. Can you make sure to show up on time from now on to avoid setting it as an example to others?”

Related post: 5 Reasons Project Managers are Sexy

Hopefully, this nips it in the bud and doesn’t cause a problem. If it persists, it could be a larger attitude problem.

The Prima Donna

There are some team members who believe they are so valuable to the team or the organization that they don’t care what the PM says about it. Whether it involves arriving late to meetings or more serious infractions, the PM must take action to stop the behavior.

Some team members do have some form of power. One person may have specific skills or knowledge that make them critical to the project. The project manager cannot allow that person to have special privileges that others are not allowed to have.

If a prima donna is allowed to work from home, have special hours or enjoy any special freedoms that the rest of the team does not have, animosity will ensue, which will result in low morale for much of the team.

As soon as the “special” employee begins assuming special treatment, the PM must speak with him to have it stopped. If the employee doesn’t heed the PM’s requests, the PM should escalate the issue to higher management.

Higher management may fear letting the knowledge walk out the door, opting to allow the rogue behavior.  The PM should stand firm. The cost of keeping a prima donna around is higher than the cost of letting him walk.

The graveyards are full of indispensable people.

How do you handle renegade team members?

For more information, check out The Importance of Leadership in Project Management

If you would like to learn more about a career in Project Management, get Lew’s book Project Management 101: 101 Tips for Success in Project Management on Amazon.

Please feel free to provide feedback in the comments section below.

Lew’s Books at Amazon:

Project Management 101
Consulting 101
The Reluctant Mentor

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