How to deal with PM Insubordination

Have you ever had a project management team member deliberately refuse to obey a reasonable order relating to his/her job? Dealing with such behavior can be difficult and if left unchecked can balloon into a problem that reaches other areas of the project.

Once others on the team see such insubordination they become more likely to behave in the same manner which could be the downfall of the entire project. Productivity and morale can drop if the project manager doesn’t act quickly.

Fortunately there are some early warning signs that, if recognized and dealt with immediately, can stop insubordination in its tracks. These signs include:

  • dishonesty (white lies that escalate into major lies)
  • incompetence (frequent mistakes and inability to follow directions)
  • reluctance to change (negativity and overreaction to problems)
  • lack of dependability (failure to complete assigned duties)
  • apathy (mentally disconnected from the job)

Once a team member begins exhibiting any or all of these signs, it is important for the project manager to take immediate action. Begin with progressive discipline and give that person every opportunity to improve. Document the process and give continuous feedback, letting them know you want them to improve. Be honest and communicate that you want them on the team, but that their behavior is creating problems that might cause the project to fail.

If progressive discipline doesn’t work, it may be time to ask the team member to look for a different project for the sake of the entire project. So watch closely for the warning signs and address problems before they wreck an otherwise successful project.

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  1. I would first start looking for reason why the situation looks like that. Most of the time people have some reason to underperform or disobey. It can be anything from another high-priority project a person is involved in to personal problems.

    The more you know about the situation the better you can act.

  2. I guess that is what I was trying to say when I emphasized that every opportunity to improve should be provided. Obviously, you would ask people why they behave like that. Unfortunately, people will not always tell you. Sometimes, they will tell you something different in order to not say something face-threatening. As a consequence, I would like to refocus a discussion from a personal to a professional level.

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