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What to do when a star player doesn’t play well with others

As a leader, what do you do with a star player who doesn’t play well with others? There are 5 critical steps to effectively manage the situation.

Star player doesn’t play well with others

We’ve all worked in businesses where someone doesn’t play by the rules. They ignore the core business values, disregard authority or obstruct a healthy working environment. To make things worse, they have no intent on changing their ways. The obvious solution to this problem is for leaders to performance manage them, and if they can’t conform to workplace standards they should be asked to leave… right?

If only it were that simple. What if they are a standout performer and losing them would have a large, negative impact on business performance? What if they have a unique skillset that is nearly impossible to replace? On the flip side, keeping them can have serious, ongoing repercussions on the whole team and other key stakeholders. It can be a tricky issue to navigate, even for highly skilled leaders.

A recent study of 18,869 people by Psych Tests found some interesting insights:

  • 50% of people are frustrated by team members who don’t pull their weight, leaving others to pick up the slack.
  • 60% of people hate working with a team member who can’t keep up with the rest of the group.

So, what should you do when a star player doesn’t play well with others?

  1. Ensure clarity around boundaries

    Clarity is power. Ensure everyone is clear on your expectations as well as the behaviours you expect team members to exhibit (which should support the business values). This means you’ll have a much higher chance of your team adhering to them.

  2. Listen

    As leaders, we must never assume we understand the motive behind actions. Many people are fighting battles we know little about. For example, a former team member was not cooperating with the team, but had experienced a death in the family which explained his actions. Understanding why people are behaving in a certain way can enable leaders to address the real issue.

    ‘Seek first to understand, then be understood’ – Dr Stephen Covey

  3. Focus feedback around behaviours

    Feedback should always be provided on observable behaviours (not values which tend to be more intangible). Be specific around what was seen and heard, and the resulting consequences. Lastly, document everything. Should you need to ask an employee to leave at some point, you will be glad you did!

  4. Complete a cost-benefit analysis

    Great leaders are masters in weighing up considerations in important choices. They take time to consider the consequences of their team’s actions as well as their own. A simple cost-benefit analysis can be a huge help when dealing with difficult people.


    • Benefits they bring to your business, including financial costs, capability, experience, insights, connections etc.
    • Costs to the organisation (short and long term), including team effectiveness, motivation, time, financial costs, morale etc.
  5. Create a joint action plan

    Not making a decision is, in fact, a choice to do nothing. Sometimes it can be the right thing to do, as certain situations can resolve themselves without your intervention. However, without meaningful action, issues often become worse rather than better.

    By sitting down with the person in question and working out a joint action plan, you can take positive steps to move things in the right direction.

Having a superstar on the team who doesn’t play well with others can do more harm than good. By following the five steps above, leaders will give themselves the best chance of navigating difficult terrain without too much collateral damage.

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