Working in groups: Unwelcome problem personalities
- Teams and committees, whether in educational or work
settings, can be derailed by disruptive members,
- Problematic archetypes, from "Bossy" to "Slacky," can hinder
teamwork, but there are strategies to mitigate the effects of their behaviors.
- Unwelcome traits such as tardiness, excessive talking,
negativity, and more can be handled even while maintaining group cohesion and innovation.
- The secret to successful brainstorming includes foregoing criticism, encouraging wild ideas,
prioritizing quantity over quality, and team members building on each other's creativity.
Do you know any of these problem group members?
Quietly | Slacky
Students in classes and people on mission trips often find
themselves a part of a group or team assigned to a specific task. In the classroom, such groups
may digest case studies, discuss
textbook material, and even prepare
presentations to be given to the rest of the class. Those on a church missions council or
committee may be charged with putting together certain events and carrying on a program of
education and inspiration. All of these groups have two dimensions: the assigned task and the
interpersonal dynamics that nourish us in all kinds of ways.
Unfortunately, not all teams or groups work well. Groups
may wind up frustrated, stuck, or squabbling. Some find it difficult to retain focus and motivation
because some people are preoccupied with their personal agendas. Groups may be troubled by a
lack of cohesiveness, by cliques, or by one-upmanship. Or, the behavior of one member can
sometimes drive all the other group members "up the wall."
With apologies to Snow White and her dwarf friends, here's a list of problem characters who
can damage study and work groups.
Busy can't make the meeting, no matter when it's scheduled. She says she's
willing to contribute but has a busy schedule and lots to do. So, she tells the group to carry
on without her. She will do her part, she says, as long as they let her know what that is.
- Wily is an alibi artist. He has excuses for all the responsibilities he doesn't carry through on
and all the meetings he misses. Some suspect he's a bit of a conniver or con artist.
- Smugly doesn't much trust other people and their ability to do things the way she thinks
they ought to be done. So, she does everything herself. Whenever someone offers to help, she
smoothly puts them off: "It's no problem. Everything is under control. Not to worry."
- The less others in the group are involved, the happier Smugly seems to be. Delegate
is not a verb she uses. No one knows whether Smugly acts the way she does because she is a
perfectionist or because she is an egomaniac.
- Clock comes to meetings and participates, but he always has to leave early for some other
- Quietly comes to group meetings very well prepared, but she is so quiet that people often
forget she's there. Her ideas would really help the group, but unless someone calls on her,
Quietly doesn't say anything.
- Nobody has seen hide nor hair of Absently. He isn't even coming to class anymore. He
hasn't tried to contact anybody else in the group. As project deadlines loom ahead, the other
members ask themselves: What should we do about Absently?
- Lacking motivation and initiative, this listless group member is a sloppy contributor at best.
At worst, he's dead weight.
- Jokey enjoys being with people. He's always there when the group gets together. The
trouble is, he gets the group off track. He cannot stay focused on the task.
- No matter what she is asked to do, Whiney complains. She definitely knows how to find
clouds in silver linings!
- Wordy monopolizes meetings. He has good ideas, but he talks and talks and talks. An
outsider observing the group would see Wordy doing eighty percent or more of the talking.
- Bossy definitely "contributes" to the group. His ideas are good and he's always ready to
offer them. However, Bossy doesn't listen to the ideas of others; he's an obnoxious jerk who
forces his solutions on the group. At the first meeting, this know-it-all tries to take charge and
push and push until the group goes in the direction he thinks best (even though others in the
group may not agree).
Bossy has no idea there's a difference between "being the boss" and leading people.
- Tardily always shows up late. Sometimes, she doesn't show at all. She never quite gets her
share of the work done on time. Even on the day her group has to do some kind of presentation
in front of an audience, Tardily will probably show up late.
- Edgy's negative attitude -- about what she's supposed to be doing at the moment, about
group project ideas, and even about life in general -- drags down group morale. Edgy can be a
- Pokey hasn't developed good brainstorming skills. Pokey doesn't listen real well and her
powers of discernment need honing. Groups find Pokey lagging far behind when creative juices
Dealing with unacceptable behavior by participants in study and workgroups
Discussion questions on the topic of dealing with problem group or committee
members [ more on conflict
- Have you worked in groups that had one or more problem people?
- Has your own behavior ever made you an unwelcome group
- What special problems do "unwelcome members" pose for the rest of the group?
- What workable strategies can be used to deal with the problem types listed above?
- How does one light a fire under goof-offs?
- How do you clamp down on horseplay and banter in a group without damaging morale?
- How can a group with one or more problem members get productivity and results without
incurring resentment or damaging relationships?
- How can a group plagued by problem members keep creativity
and innovation alive and flourishing?
- How does one open dialog with a difficult group member?
- How do you discuss someone's problem behavior while minimizing defensive reactions on
What do students look for in their group members?
A study by management consultants Mary L. Connerley and Fred A. Mael, which was
published in an issue of Journal of Management Education, indicated that the
following attributes matter:
- Ability to express thoughts in writing
- Dependability to show up at meetings
- Ability to work late nights with a group
- Sense of responsibility
- Placing importance on grades
Does your group have these "willingness traits"?
Attitude check: Is your work or study group headed for success or failure because of
the participants' frame of mind?
A bi-weekly pamphlet titled The Professor in the Classroom said that, for
a group of students or learners to be successful, each of its members needs four "willingness"
Willingness to . . .
- Willingness to accept everyone in the group.
Good group members don't
wait to see who measures up.
They don't wait to see where someone stands before accepting
him or her.
- Willingness to learn from each other.
Good group members recognize that
everyone brings strengths to the group. They are not control freaks like Bossy
- Willingness to share ideas, power, expertise, and the floor.
members don't talk people to death like Wordy
- Willingness to stay focused.
Good group members commit to staying on task.
They are not like Jokey.
How to brainstorm
Advertising executive Alex Osborn coined the term "brainstorming" in 1941 to describe
that widely used creative problem-solving technique. Osborn said four rules were essential
to the group dynamics of effective brainstorming:
- No criticism of ideas. People have trouble thinking creatively if they believe
they will be judged.
- Encourage wild and exaggerated ideas. If anything goes, group members can feel
free to make connections they might not have considered before. This can yield surprisingly
- Go for large quantities of ideas. Don't give people time to self-evaluate or discard
ideas before they are spoken.
- Build on each other's ideas. A whole group can be "smarter" than its individual
members. Applying several brains to an idea can expand the concept in exciting ways.
Groups in an academic setting or at a workplace can be very effective even if they may seem
messy and not very efficient.
-- Howard Culbertson,
How do you deal with conflict in your group?
|Do you use owl, fox or
turtle strategies to manage stressful conflict? [ read more ]
Issues related to ministry, study and work groups