The Problem With “Prisoner” Team Members

by drjim on December 7, 2017

Prisoner team members just won't move on

Prisoner team members just won’t move on
Image Credit:
Nyall & Maryanne

As an IT manager it is your responsibility to manage the various members of your team. Our IT manager training has taught us that we need to get to know each of them, understand what they are hoping to accomplish, and then provide them with challenging assignments that will help them to grow their skills. This is all fine and good as long as this is what your team members want. However, it turns out that there are some team members who are not looking for what you have to offer. We call these team members “prisoners”.

What Is A Prisoner?

The good news for you as an IT manager is that not all of your team members consider themselves to be prisoners. Only about 8% see themselves this way. Just exactly what is a workplace prisoner? It’s somebody who stays at their job even though they feel unmotivated, disengaged, and more often than not have a negative impression about the company that they work for.

The good news for you, if indeed there is any good news to be had here, is that more often than not prisoner workers don’t stick around. They realize that they are unhappy and so they start to look for their next job and eventually move on. This is what results in healthy turnover in most teams.

However, that is not the case for all of your prisoner workers. There are some that stay. When they do this, they end up impeding progress. Bad news for you is that team members who have been there the longest are the most likely to fit the prisoner mold. Studies have shown that among team members who have been with the company for 26 years or longer, 17.1% are prisoners.

What Can An IT Manager Do About A Prisoner Team Member?

As an IT manager you clearly have a problem here. What you need is for everyone who is on your team to be working at full speed. If you have a collection of team members who feel like they are prisoners then they are not going to be motivated and they are going to end up holding the entire team back.

One interesting observation that has been made is that we can tell who the most likely candidates for being prisoners are. They are our long-term team members. What makes this all the more surprising is that we are probably paying them the most also. What this means for us is that the greatest cost for running our teams may also be creating the greatest drag on the team and may be holding everyone else back.

So what’s an IT manager to do? The first thing that you are going to have to do is to identify the prisoners on your team. Take a careful look at everyone on the team and pay special attention to your senior members. Once you have identified the ones who are just participating and not leading, you are going to have to take action. You’ll need to have a talk with them and explain that they are holding the team back from being able to achieve its goals. You’ll need to ask them to shape up or move on.

What All Of This Means For You

Managing a team of technical professionals is never an easy task no matter how much IT team building you do. As IT managers we are in charge of a team and we need to ensure that everyone on that team is helping the team to move forward and achieve the goals that we’ve laid out them. However, it turns out that some of your team members may be unmotivated prisoners.

A prisoner is a team member who stays at their job even though they feel unmotivated and disengaged. These workers tend to be the more senior workers on your team who also happen to be among your most highly paid workers. You are going to have to first identify them, and then you’ll have to sit down with them and ask them to change or move on.

Realizing that everyone on your team is different is one of our critical IT manager skills. We need to be able to identify those team members who are not pulling their own weight and then step in and take action. Be a good IT manager and set all of your team’s prisoners free!

– Dr. Jim Anderson
Blue Elephant Consulting –
Your Source For Real World IT Management Skills™

Question For You: What should you do if one of your prisoner team members doesn’t get the hint and change their ways?

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What We’ll Be Talking About Next Time

As an IT manager it is your responsibility to use your IT manager skills to make sure that your team is able to operate at their highest level. This comes down to you doing a number of different things. The first, and perhaps most important, is making sure that everyone comes to work each day. Next, you are going to want to make sure that while they are at work they are delivering productive work and engaging in IT team building. This is where things can start to get a bit tricky. Is it possible that some members of your team spend too much time daydreaming?

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