You have an employee that is highly skilled and is very valuable in his knowledge. When he is given tasks, he does it with high quality and gets it done as expected. So, what's the problem you ask?
This employee does not work well with teams. In fact, whenever he is involved in a team, it tends to be him against the team (especially if the team decides to go in a different direction). Therefore, though he gets his work done, he slows the team down. He also tends to play "devil's advocate" all of the time, which takes up time and hurts the team's innovation.
As a manager, you try to put him on projects that don't require teamwork but he can work by himself. However, those projects don't come around often, plus this individual would be very valuable to other projects -- if he just would be a team player.
What to do? Is it better for the team(s) if you go ahead and terminate this person? Or do you try to get him to appreciate and work as a team player? Or something else?
Has this person received feedback though “teamwork” coaching?
If not, EM Sky describes the process of getting him into coaching:
Let him know both how serious the problem is and that you find his knowledge and skills valuable enough that you are willing to give him a chance to accept teamwork coaching. Let it be his choice. If he doesn't value the job enough to undergo the coaching, then let him go. If he does value the job enough, then he will sign on for the coaching as a willing participant, which is necessary for the coaching to be successful.
Give him a day to make his choice, so that he doesn't feel he has to give an answer before being able to think things through, but I wouldn't give him much longer than that. A longer time period will
just prolong the stress. You might consider talking to him at the end of the day and then giving him the next day off to think about it, so that he doesn't bring the stress of that decision to work. Before he leaves, set up a meeting with him for the morning of the day following his day off, and let him know that you will expect an answer then. Be kind, and be firm. Knowing what to expect will minimize the stress of the situation for everyone.
If the problem has never been addressed directly, then he needs a chance to correct the problem on his own. Let him know that he can try on his own (over a definite time frame), or that you would be happy to provide him with a teamwork coaching program if he thinks it might be beneficial. Whichever route he chooses, meet with him on a regular schedule, at least once a week, over the course of that time frame, in order to check on his progress and to offer your support and encouragement. Try to have specific feedback prepared for those meetings, so that he will have a realistic view of his progress - both where he is succeeding and where he still needs improvement.
At the end of the given time frame, meet with him to discuss the results. If he is where he needs to be, great! If he is not where you'd like him to be but he's making considerable progress, you might consider allowing him to continue the process over a new time frame. Let him know that you think the problem still needs work but that you are pleased with his progress. If he's trying on his own and not making enough progress, then give him the choice between accepting coaching and resigning. If he has accepted coaching but is still not making enough progress, then you will know what the problem is and how to rectify it. This is an important aspect of the weekly progress meetings. They allow you to recognize early on whether there are attitude problems or personality clashes between the employee and the coach or what have you, and they allow you to adjust your methods as you go. If you're staying on top of the process, then by the end of the time period you'll know where you stand.
I recommend six-week time frames and weekly meetings because it allows the employee a chance to make real progress in between meetings without feeling constantly monitored, while giving the manager frequent enough check-in dates to allow him or her to stay updated on the change process. Six weeks is also enough time to allow new habits to "sink in," but if all goes well, I still recommend
follow-up meetings on a less frequent basis - maybe once every two weeks at first and then once a month, until the employee can maintain those new habits entirely on his own.
The most important key to the whole process is to approach it with the intention of helping the employee to become happier and to fit in better in his work environment (even if that
ultimately means letting him find a different workplace entirely). If the manager holds an attitude of annoyance and approaches the employee with the intention of "fixing" him, the manager's efforts will almost never be successful. But approach the employee with the desire to help him either to be happier in your organization or to be happier elsewhere, and you'll find him surprisingly open to that dialog.
Bren also mentions that while some folks adapt quickly to coaching, others never seem to without some explicit guidance. Marc mentions that a 360-degree feedback loop might uncover some issues. However, he warns that for it to be effective, it should be done for a number of people involved in the situation so that a clear picture of the dynamics emerges with somebody that knows how to use this technique.
Mike Sale also picked up on the “devil's advocate” role and had this to say: Don't EVER let this person play devils advocate! This is a total cop out and they clearly do not have the ability to provide value in this role. Slap it down quietly but hard. Make it abundantly clear that his job is no longer to find problems and solve them himself, but instead execute solutions as a team environment. Take no prisoners here! Find an opportunity where you have faith that either the team is "right" or both solutions will work and put him in a role of great reward and praise if he can make the team solution succeed. Break the cycle by changing his role from devil's advocate to the project's angel is critical.
If coaching techniques have been applied but ineffective, what next?
Everyone agrees that if he continues to subvert the team after effective coaching, he needs to go elsewhere in the company. Given this scenario, it doesn't seem likely this can happen without some level of teamwork involved so the likely next step is to terminate. Otherwise, John Richardson provides an example of what could happen: I've had a similar situation when I managed a small automotive repair shop. We had three technicians who worker well together and formed a great team. We found ourselves overwhelmed in the summer with work and had to hire a new mechanic. This new technician was a hard worker but not a team player. Within a few months he had setup his own "team" and had turned the rest of the guys in the shop into negative complainers. All of a sudden our productive team was a bitter mess. It's the old story of "one bad apple" ruins the rest.