Got a disorganized team member? Learn how to manage them.

It’s frustrating enough when your day turns disorganized. But what if you had to manage someone else’s chaos too? As leaders or mentors, you might often have to do this. Why? Because as author Matthew Snider said, “The hallmark of an individual who is disorganized, is that they never finish what they start.” And we want our team members to complete their to-do lists. 

Let’s see how to gracefully help someone get their act together:

  1. Examine the effects of the problem. Says author Elizabeth Saunders, “One of the biggest reasons you’re frustrated and upset is that this mode of operation is different.” Start by checking with yourself. Are you annoyed just because your team member has paper strewn everywhere, or because that is causing him/ her to miss deadlines? In other words, ask yourself if this person’s approach is creating negative outcomes, or if it is just a different style of working. Let go, if it’s the latter. How they stay productive is their modus operandi. 
  • Check-in with them. Psychology 101 says that each behavior has a root cause. Consider why your colleague is disorganized. Is it new behavior? They may be struggling with something personally. Have a kind conversation with them. Something like, “Hey, I’ve noticed you’ve been preoccupied of late, and seem to be buried behind papers. I hope everything is alright?” 

But, if it is a consistent pattern that is causing delays for other team members, or costing the company more than its project budget, help them grasp this impact. Say, “I’d like to share with you some things I have noticed about your working style.” Point them to the ripple effects and ask what they think about it.

  • Show them a different perspective. Says Saunders, “Appeal to the self-interest of the employee, not reprimand them.” Help them understand how changing the habit will benefit. “Typically, disorganized people end up compensating by working extra hours,” she says. “Tell them you don’t want them killing themselves by doing that.” Also ask them to consider how others perceive their disorganization, like a cluttered desk or overbooked calendars. This will allow them to look at the problem differently.
  • Offer help. Before this, make sure you hear out your team member about their challenges. You don’t want to coddle them or make them feel terrible. Instead, ask if sharing best practices would help them. If they say yes, preface the conversation by naming that our brains are wired differently from each other, and what works for you may not work for them. They may need whiteboards instead of Excel sheets. Or less time in meetings, more in visual planning, etc.

Helping someone change core behavior patterns can be difficult. And it calls for a fine balance between tact and compassion. How do you plan to go about this?

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