Business

Project deadline near, and a colleague is blamed

Q: I’ve been given a project with a colleague I don’t really get along with — personally or professionally. Our team is small, so I can’t ask to be reassigned. My coworker is way too detail-oriented and we’re about to miss the deadline because of it. I want to tell my boss that she’s holding us back so I don’t get blamed. What should I say?

A: Small teams need all kinds of skills. They need people who are very detail-oriented just as much as they need people who are more focused on the bigger picture. Your coworker could have written this same question from her perspective, complaining about a coworker who rushes through tasks, jeopardizing the quality and accuracy of the project.

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Have a conversation with your coworker before doing anything else. Say that you don’t want to miss the deadline and want to work together to keep the project on track. Avoid any emotions or blame — this is strictly about work and about communicating well.

Approach the situation without letting your personal feelings take over. Focus on the data. Go back to the project plan and identify what got done, when, and by whom.

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There are many deadlines in any given project before the final one. How many deadlines were missed prior to this one? Did you contribute to any of them being missed? Who owned the responsibility for those tasks?

If there’s a clear trend that indicates your coworker as the common factor, get involved as soon as you can. You have to believe your coworker doesn’t want to miss a deadline either, so work together to come up with a plan that lets you meet your deadlines. This shouldn’t be about liking or disliking your coworker; it should be about having a plan with clear responsibilities and deadlines along the way to keep you both on track.

Extreme situations may call for getting your boss involved. Do not start casting blame or trying to prove your innocence in any wrongdoing. The only blame would be for not bringing attention to the problem sooner or for not trying to remedy the situation with a professional conversation. Your boss will come to his or her own conclusions based on the facts presented.

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Asking to be reassigned isn’t the approach to take in a situation like this, even if it were possible. You can’t always be reassigned from projects when you find the other team members challenging. Throughout your career, you’ll have to work with people you don’t like and who have a different approach or skill set than you do. Learning to do that is a huge part of professional development.

You also should examine why you don’t like this person. Do you not like their beliefs? Their personal style or approach to work? Being civil and professional in the workplace is part of your job. Identify and appreciate the skills your colleagues bring that are helpful to you, your job, and your team’s success — that is what you want to focus on.

The reality is that you sometimes have to work with people you don’t like. How much that matters is up to you. At some point, it might matter a lot, based on the prevailing culture at a company, and you may decide to leave the organization.

 Until then, communicate professionally, document your project’s progress, and try to appreciate the differences in your coworkers that make them unique contributors to the success of your team.

Elaine Varelas is managing partner at Keystone Partners, a career management firm in Boston, and serves on the board of Career Partners International.
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