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Productive and collaborative teams are essential for software development teams. Team members vary in any number of ways, but all must develop professional working relationships for effective teamwork. If issues are left unaddressed, difficult team members destroy team morale and productivity and even increase turnover.

Nearly anyone working professionally encounters difficult co-workers. As QA testers, we often find ourselves working with difficult developers, product managers, designers, project managers or even fellow QA testers. It’s a common team problem within organizations and directly impacts team productivity and product quality.

According to one survey, 74% of employees experience significant conflict within a work-related team. What makes team members uncooperative, hostile or prone to be difficult? More importantly, how can you approach constructively working with difficult team members?

This guide provides tips and best practices for managing working relationships to your best advantage as a QA tester while remaining a productive team member that others want to work with.

Key Takeaways

  • What defines a difficult team member?
  • Why are some people difficult to work with?
  • Discover tips to address difficult team members and their behavior.
  • How do difficult team members impact productivity?
  • What can you do when working with difficult people?
  • Learn how to manage a difficult situation with difficult team members.

What Defines a Difficult Team Member?

“A difficult coworker is anyone who is destructive to productive processes of the organization such as creativity, growth, service, engagement, and teamwork,” says Elizabeth J. Sandler, a senior executive and certified HR practitioner. Difficult team members are ones who consistently work against the team or single out team members to bully, harass or intimidate.

For QA testers, difficult team members may exist as developers, product or project managers, designers, managers and even fellow QA team members. Regardless of the difficult team member’s role, they interrupt the team’s productivity with distractions, bullying and domineering behaviors.

In my experience, developers are most often the difficult team member or members, sometimes along with their development manager. I’ve also experienced difficult working relationships with inflexible product managers or business analysts within a team. As a QA lead, I’ve had direct experience working with QA team members posing a threat to contract workers or temporary staff.

Difficult co-workers come in many forms. Each one attempts to bully, harass or intimidate other team members with the end goal of making themselves look better than the team member(s) they are targeting. Many temporary or contract QAs are less willing to come forward and directly address the problem for fear of losing their position. Other frequent targets are new hires or QA testers transferring in from other departments within the organization.

Antagonistic or domineering personalities feel the need to take down others to get or stay ahead of other team members. Think of it as attempting to knock people off the career ladder or stepping on them on the way up.

The problem for organizations is difficult team members drive down productivity, create hostile working conditions. Difficult employees’ behavior toward others increases employee turnover without any business or personal benefit to the organization or its employees.

Why Are Some People Difficult to Work with?

Let’s start by saying some difficult co-workers take pride in their role. Others don’t identify personally with being a difficult team member. In other words, there are team members that management allows to be difficult and those that don’t recognize their own behavior is antagonistic or difficult, don’t care or have simply never been called out for their behavior.

Within software development organizations, there are commonly several developers, engineers or architects who are treated as irreplaceable god-like creatures so important the organization cannot exist without them. We all know a few of these types. Most of them are difficult people to work with. Each is typically aggressive, domineering and arrogant. Now, keep in mind it’s not always the case. Some long-term employees are the only ones with the knowledge to keep the business afloat, and are assertive but still respect their team members.

Many difficult team members are arrogant but also tend to have low self-esteem or high personal insecurity. Many are difficult to keep others at a distance because they lack social skills or prefer to remain aloof. More than likely, the difficult behavior stems from living or working with difficult, abusive or negative people. Antagonistic behaviors are most often an attempt to maintain control.

How Do Difficult Team Members Impact Team Productivity?

Allowing team members to continue antagonistic and destructive behaviors destroys a team and along with it the team’s productivity. Resentment toward management unwilling or unable to manage a difficult employee destroys morale and increases turnover. No one wants to work with an abusive or difficult co-worker, nor should they.

Team productivity depends on effective, collaborative professional working relationships. Team members don’t need to become best friends, but they must be able to work with one another productively. Effective communication helps builds team productivity. Team members must put aside personal differences and establish positive working relationships with peers and team members.

Management and individual team members control productivity. Make it a priority to address all difficult team members’ behavior immediately and directly. Make changes to the team when team members cannot function without antagonism or intimidation of others. Protect the organization and your employees from difficult co-workers and build a more productive team that creates a higher-quality product.

What to Do When Working with a Difficult Team Member?

The first line of defense is direct confrontation. When a difficult team member is abusive or intimating, call them out. Make it clear, make it direct and focus on the behavior. For example, if a developer starts screaming at the tester for entering a defect, interrupt them with direct action.

Directly calling out the behavior neutralizes it. As a manager, lead or team member, treat difficult people the same way—call out their negative behavior directly every single time it occurs. Eventually, the difficult behavior stops.

Many are tempted to ignore antagonistic or difficult behavior and hope it goes away. It won’t. Instead, allowing it to continue will destroy both the team’s and organization’s culture and create resentment among professionally behaving personnel. Address difficult behavior directly every time it occurs.

As an individual, if you are not comfortable with directly addressing a difficult co-worker, then escalate the issue to a direct manager or team lead. If nothing happens to improve the situation, report the problem to human resources. If that fails, then begin your new job search, contact police if you feel threatened, or contact a legal professional. It is often illegal and always unprofessional to intimidate and harass fellow team members.

As QA testing professionals, you’ll certainly encounter difficult team members. Make attempts to develop an equitable, professional working relationship with all team members. In situations where difficult team members threaten, harass or attempt to intimidate you, stand up for yourself. Be direct and address the inappropriate behavior. Don’t suffer in silence. If the situation is not resolvable on your own, involve your manager, the team, human resources, police (if necessary) or legal counsel.

As an organization, do not allow difficult team members to destroy team productivity and increase employee turnover. Address problem employees before they impact team productivity or product quality. Manage difficult employees directly and consistently, and always observe teams for issues to keep them moving in a positive and productive direction.

About the Author

Amy Reichert

A QA test professional with 23+ years of QA testing experience within a variety of software development teams, Amy Reichert has extensive experience in QA process development & planning, team leadership/management, and QA project management.  She has worked on multiple types of software development methodologies including waterfall, agile, scrum, kanban and customized combinations. Amy enjoys continuing to improve her software testing craft by researching and writing on a variety of related topics. In her spare time, she enjoys gardening, cat management and the outdoors.


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