Sharing responsibility can ease friction

Dear Joan:
I am having problems dealing with a co-worker. I have been working at my present job for about a year and a half. I was hired at the same time, on the same level, as my co-worker. The two of us work on problem solving projects together.

When starting a project I like to acquaint myself with all the variables involved and obtain complete knowledge of the subject being studied. My co-worker on the other hand is happy to just skim the surface.

A pattern has developed in our working relationship. Half way through the project my co-worker will look at me with puppy dog eyes and voice the opinion that he doesn't agree with me on some issues and states that he never is allowed any input (this lays a guilt trip on me). I then stop and pry my co-workers opinion from him. Sometimes my co-worker has valid concerns, but has not done any research to back up the opinion given. I am a thorough person and hate to leave any stone unturned. So a lot of my time is spent explaining to my co-worker why their opinion is wrong, or we research the subject only to find it is not a valid concern.

Lately, I cringe whenever my co-worker opens his mouth. I have thought about sitting this person down and explaining that he needs to take more initiative and do some investigation on his own. However, I know this person well enough to predict that he would resent me plus fail to voice any opinions in the future. How can I keep our working relationship on good terms, yet still use my time wisely. Please help!

Working together on a project for which you have joint accountability is tricky. And learning to get results accomplished with people over whom you have no direct control is very important if you are to be considered promotable.

Some of your comments lead me to believe that you prefer to work alone. You seem to resent and resist your co-worker's involvement. When he does voice a concern, you focus your energy on proving him wrong because he hasn't been as thorough as you have. It sounds as if you are the only one who is planning and executing the work and he is left out until he complains. You describe your co-worker as the problem but I'm not convinced that you aren't contributing to it.

Although good problem-solving requires doing adequate research before a decision is made, new studies also point out the value of synergistic thinking and intuition. Chances are your solutions will be better if you have the benefit of your co-worker's thinking. In addition, if you are seen as a good solo performer but not skilled at working in tandem with others, it could hurt your advancement.

Although your co-worker may have some work habits you don't agree with, there are some steps you can take to structure your joint projects so that he can make a meaningful contribution. Here are some ideas that might help:

The next time you are given a joint problem to solve, approach your co-worker and say, "I've been thinking about how to work more collaboratively on our projects. Let's talk about how we split up the work so we can maximize our individual strengths." Then work together to decide what steps need to be accomplished and ask him what part he wants to do. Identify potential concerns and possible approaches. Then reach agreement on a timeline and deadlines for each part.

Once the project is underway, schedule frequent huddles to discuss the progress each of you is making and any problems that emerge. If he seems off track give him some coaching to get him refocused- but don't do his work for him. Listen to his concerns and suggest ways he can discover on his own if his concerns are justified. When the project is complete, schedule a meeting to evaluate what worked and what didn't and then apply what you learn to your next project. Forcing yourself to share the responsibilities of your projects could be a valuable - and necessary - part of your own development.

If your co-worker continues to let you do all the work, in spite of this new approach, you may want to talk with your co-worker and manager about reorganizing your assignments so that each of you is responsible for your own projects. 

Joan Lloyd is a Milwaukee based executive coach and organizational & leadership development strategist. She is known for her ability to help leaders and their teams achieve measurable, lasting improvements. Joan Lloyd & Associates, specializes in leadership development, organizational change and teambuilding, providing: executive coaching, CEO coaching & leader team coaching, 360-degree feedback processes, retreat facilitation and presentation skill coaching and small group labs. Contact Joan Lloyd & Associates at (414) 573-1616,, or 
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