FAHA: Who is your Jeff?

Working together in a team requires many skills, one of which includes dealing with conflicts.

To begin, let me say there is no Jeff. He is a fictional character based  off of a certain member of our team, and to save privacy, we shall call  him Jeff. 

Jeff is a leading member of our design/build team. Like everyone else,  he has good and bad ideas, but that is as good as it gets. Jeff has the  mentality that he is always right. It is his way or the highway. For  example, one of our members, let's call her Stacy, worked with an  ex-team member on a new design for the crate in which the robot will be  shipped. This idea, to say the least, was pretty amazing. However, as  soon as Stacy presented the design, Jeff shot it down immediately. Jeff  wasn't even leading the design team for the crate. When Stacy asked the  ex-team member for help explaining the design, Jeff suddenly hated the  design. Why? Jeff hates this ex-member. Overcome by frustration, Stacy  left crying. After a good while comforting her, I left because I knew  there was no point in me staying is Jeff is just going to make things  his way. 

So, to simplify all of this, Jeff is a complete jerk who always believes he is right.

Now, I have three questions for you.  

1) Does your team have a Jeff?

2) If so, how is he? What is his story? (Of course this is not restricted to guys; Jeff may be a girl)

3) How would you deal with the Jeff problem?

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I will be honest and say that I believe out of anybody on our team that I am Jeff. Team members and I come up with great ideas, and I really try not to shoot anyone down, but a lot of times I do. I feel that there are some other Jeff’s on the team, but I never get told of what they are thinking.

I catch myself on some occasions, reflect on it, and try to better myself each and every time. I feel that I have grown a lot in a certain way. It is the worst when other people tell me, but I am very glad they do. I sometimes lack self awareness, and do not realize how I come off to people, but I really do mean well.

I am the president of our robotics team, and I can tell you almost anything about our team, or FIRST in general. I feel that knowledge is the greatest think you can possibly pass down to other people, and I have been trying to get our team to do a little more work during the off-season. I am a part of animation (regretfully) and manufacturing. I am also the driver for our team.

I am sorry for being a Jeff, and I will do everything in my power to rid of this habit.

As for dealing with someone like me, let me think what I want, let me cool down, and prove me wrong. If you cannot prove me wrong, once I calm down, talk to me later and let me know how I came off to everyone.

Thank you for creating this.

I’ve tried to learn how to deal with “Jeffs” over the last couple of years. It’s something I’ve struggled with, but I think I’ve found a solution this year; the good part is it’s a solution to a bunch of other (potential) problems as well:

This year is the first that the team I’m working with has attempted to implement some type of engineering design process. While this has succeeded to varying degrees, it’s still a success to me because we’re infinitely better than last year. One of the critical aspects to this has been enforcing a fact-based approach to design analysis. We still discuss the various ideas, and people are free to express their opinions, but when it comes down to making decisions, we’re trying to stick to rational arguments. If someone says they think that one design is better than the others, the immediate next question is “why did you come to that conclusion?” The response to this should be something of the form “when we prototyped this grasping mechanism, we found that it was more effective at grabbing innertubes while the robot is moving than any of the other designs we’ve tried.” Part of this process is first generating a list of criteria that everyone agrees on, and then ranking them, as this gives a concrete to decide which one is really “the best,” instead of just trying to impose one person’s subjective opinion on the rest of the team. For a good methodology with this, you can check out JVN’s Weighted Objective Table paper. I tried to use the formal table with my team, and found it to be a bit constraining, just because of the learning styles of the students that are on my team, but it provides a nice example of what I’m talking about.

Find a process that works for your team, but I would suggest that the ultimate solution to someone with a baseless argument is use irrefutable facts.

The Jeff that is highlighted in the OP’s post has too much freedom. Too much freedom to impact in a negative fashion and to obstruct design developments in areas that he/she is not directly involved in.

It takes a lot of consistent mentoring to work with a Jeff and help him/her to become a team member, not a know-it-all. The mentoring should help to restrict the negative influence and obstructive attitude. It takes time, in some cases 4 years, but Jeffs can become positive role models and team members. Rarely, a Jeff cannot be worked with and if enough damage is done to the team structure and attitude, a Jeff may have to be advised to change or leave.

Student teammates must build strong skills in handling situations that test their roles on the team. It demands a lot of maturing and development of objectivity. Teens are surrounded by peer pressure and naturally want the team to get along. Giving into a Jeff is not going to fix anything; the goal should become - working with a Jeff.

It’s a tough situation but there is tremendous opportunity for a Jeff to develop into a positive team member and perhaps, role model, and for the team to continue to function as a team, even with a Jeff or two, monitoring and/or limiting the Jeff’s influence until he/she shows improvement.