Dealing with Coworker Incompetence

By Paula Santonocito

FailureQ. My job involves a lot of group projects. All the people on the team are very capable, except for one. She frequently misses deadlines and then hands in work that isn’t high quality. I’ve tried waiting this situation out, but it hasn’t gotten better. Any suggestions as to what I should do?

A. It would be great if you could assume your boss sees what’s going on. Then you could take comfort in knowing that eventually the person will be taken to task–or taken off task.

Unfortunately, when work is team-driven, incompetent workers sometimes fly beneath the radar. In team-based work environments, if a project comes off well, everyone on the team tends to get credit for its success.

Admittedly, if this is your situation, it won’t be easy to solve the case of the incompetent one. Still, all is not lost.

First, you need to ask yourself why her work habits and ability (or lack of ability) bother you. Are they truly detracting from meeting project goals or do you merely dislike working with someone you perceive as a slacker?

It’s okay if it’s both. When you’re giving a job your all and others are doing the same, it can be very disheartening to deal with what you describe.

However, if annoyance is the only byproduct of the situation, you don’t have much to build a case on. If you air your concerns, they will come across as a difference in work styles–or worse, a personality conflict.

On the other hand, if your coworker’s missed deadlines and shoddy work have negatively impacted team results, this is a problem worth bringing to management’s attention.

How do you do this without looking like you’re ratting on your coworker?

The person to approach is your team leader. Ask to speak privately with him or her. Then explain the issue exactly as you did in your question to SMW.

You’ll also want to make it clear that you are concerned about possible missed deadlines, quality of work, and the morale of the other team members. It’s important to come across as someone addressing a work problem. If you stay on this track, you can’t go wrong.

Of course there is the possibility that your team leader won’t respond the way you’d like. What if s/he doesn’t want to address the situation?

Then you may have to endure the situation–until you or the incompetent one move on.

Nevertheless, you may still benefit from speaking up. Taking the initiative to improve a work matter generally makes you feel more in control, even when the end result is less than positive.

If you must continue to work alongside this person, knowing you did your best to rectify the situation should make it easier to focus less on her–and more on the tasks at hand and the other great people on your team.

Have a question? Email Paula here.

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