Ann Brown: Strategies for What To Do When You Have an Incompetent Co-Worker on Your Team

Ann Brown/ TNJ | 4/20/2017, midnight
When we are on teams at work, there will always be times where there will be an inexperienced worker in ...

When we are on teams at work, there will always be times where there will be an inexperienced worker in the group. But sometimes working on a project with a co-worker not up to your own level can be frustrating and time-consuming.

Incompetence happens in every industry, and in every department. But the way you handle it makes all the difference. Not addressing these issues early on can affect your team’s reputation and work. But don’t be harsh in your criticism; try not to judge or insult your co-worker. Above all, keep it professional.

“Make sure there is open communication so that the less experienced co-worker feels safe enough to say they don't know what to do. Of course, this shouldn't be happening at every step of the way, but if the less experienced co-worker feels engaged and is open to learn, this will make things better for both sides,” explains leadership development coach Elizabeth McCourt of the McCourt Leadership Group. Make sure all of your co-workers understand their responsibilities as well as what the team’s goals and objectives are. “Have you articulated or written down project goals and/or expectations clearly? Sometimes it's a matter of not understanding the project goals. There might be an opportunity to mentor or perhaps even shadow someone more experienced in order to get real-time experience,” notes McCourt.

And part of communicating with this team member is being honest about their shortcomings. “Be honest without knocking their legs out and discouraging them--this won't be good for the culture if you're trying to develop a productive team,” says McCourt. By talking with your coworker about this issue gives him a chance to step aside from the project. If he decides to stay on, then you can offer help. And by help, suggestions, advice, additional resources, etc. are the best way to go. You don’t want to do this person’s work as well as your own. But if you can lead them down the path to complete their own part of the project, then that will help the whole effort. Ask your co-worker what they are having the most difficulty with.

Keep the team’s goal in mind. Says McCourt, “Rather than exclude or alienate them from the project, include them in what they can do and challenge them to stretch. Understanding that there are deadlines with projects this isn't always possible, but if you encourage them, you might find that they are inspired to improve and will appreciate the effort being made. This is about creating a culture where employees feel empowered.”