Part 3 in our 5-part Managing Needy Team Members series.

As project managers, we often run into team members that require a great deal of attention. In an opening post for this series, we discussed a general approach to dealing with resources that need TLC. This post offers techniques for getting the most output out of folks who have personal circumstances that are objectively more critical to them than work.

Handling Project Team Members with Distracting Personal Circumstances

People with health issues, whether temporary or recurring, are not in a comfortable place in life. Their discomfort spills over into their work. The same goes for those who are getting divorced or those whose relatives are terminally ill.

Distractions are not limited to difficulties only. People planning their wedding, or those with small children, or those with a temporary second job are all somewhat stressed. Without TLC they don’t seem to be able to focus on their work.

The fact is, a life priority is greater than the job right now. There is no way to force a reprioritization. Making this transparent to them and to everyone on the team helps lower expectations. Folks with personal circumstances will sincerely appreciate your understanding.

What ruins their productivity is mentally switching gears all day. You can preempt that by actually asking them to take care of the personal business ahead of project activities.

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In return, you can ask the folks to focus on project activities when they are done with personal business. If they organize their activities in such a way that they can work on project related tasks without switching gears for a bit, you will get quality output from them.

An added bonus is that often times a team can rally around someone with personal challenges.

I remember working on a project with one of the key resources expecting a baby a week after the target project completion date. Hers was not an easy pregnancy, but the PM made caring references to this person’s well-being throughout the project. The PM managed to build an association between the pregnancy and the project timeline. When the project hit a low point and seemed destined for a significant delay, the team got energized to go above and beyond to complete the project before the baby was born.

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