Imagine you're a project manager. In fact - more coach than manager. You have a team of 6 people. One of team members plays a lot of web-based game. You infer this, because his monitor is facing door and more than 5 / 10 times when you enter the room he's playing a game.

First what you did was taking him aside and inform what your observation is. You asked him if he thinks he plays too much and also how does his playing influence other team members (your concern was that this may cause demotivation of others).

In reply he stated that he can reduce or even stop playing. As you're more coach than PM, it's not your purpose to tell people what to do, you just show them consequences of their behavior. That's why you responded that it's up to him what he'll do, but asked him to take into consideration what you've remarked.

It's been a month or so since then and he's still playing the game. The difference is that when he sees you entering the room, he quickly changes the screen...

What would you do?

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    How does this fit in the overall culture of the company? Is this his answer to not "taking tea" or playing table soccer or ping pong or some such? Commented Apr 27, 2011 at 15:08
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    We have a playroom where you can play some video games and a soccer table or spend some time on a cozy sofa. Commented Apr 28, 2011 at 8:57

10 Answers 10


Find out why

You see the symptoms but you need to know the reasons. Is he the only one or is it the common behaviour in a team? If you talked to him about the situation you should know what it is about. What are the rules that allow him to do that?

Ask yourself 'is it wrong?'

It looks obvious to many managers that this is WRONG but in some cases productivity doesn't go up if you work more. In many cases scrum teams can not work 40 hrs a week because productivity goes down after 30, 20 or even 16 hours. You can easily dig internet and find the numbers. So if your whole team need a brake this could be the case. I would consider introducing more socially integrating activities than playing flash games but nevertheless...

Change what is wrong

So you are sure it is wrong and want to change it. There are different ways to archieve it, not only "the talking". You can introduce rules that enforce a presentation of work done by each team member. Daily standup, reports, demo every 2 weeks... that way gaming member will be forced to stop or to officially convince. You can introduce rules making gaming almost obsolete: pair programming for example. It is very rare that one person in a pair will refuse to work or both will play games.

If nothing works... ... it means everybody already know he is lazy one. What to do with member which does not accept rules - it is another story.

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    I love pair programming as solution :) Btw: answer to the question whether it is wrong is very likely positive. I actually can think of pretty few situation where it wouldn't seem completely wrong, one of them working in your own company, but even then it would still be inappropriate. Commented Apr 26, 2011 at 7:38
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    Your answer is inspiring, thank you. In fact I didn't ask him for reasons of such a behavior. Now I see that it was a mistake which I should fix. I'm also aware of productivity issue. I myself cannot work too long on one thing and need a couple minutes break after hour or even less. My way of taking a break is get up and go away from the computer. His way may be to play a game. You write about demonstration of work each sprint. We do this. Team demonstrates each week it's work. He does his job, but he's neither fast nor slow comparing to other team members. Commented Apr 28, 2011 at 9:16
  • We do pair programming, but team claims that not all of problems could be solved this way (I've never be a coder so I rely on opinions). But even when developers do pair, it doesn't last more than 2-4 hours as it's exhausting. So still there is a room for playing. Commented Apr 28, 2011 at 9:26
  • You should definitely speak with him. Also, you have a playroom which makes situation look more interesting. If you do speak to him please let us know as I am very curious about it. :) Commented Apr 28, 2011 at 9:28
  • We do pair programming a lot and if a team is reluctant to work that way it usually means someone sucks as a person, a coder or as a teacher. Commented Apr 28, 2011 at 9:30

Interpreting behavior is a funny thing. You were silent on this guy's productivity in terms if he is measurably late or produces a high rate of defects or the like. The simple fact is ALL of us are unproductive during a much larger part of the work day than we care to admit. And our unproductive behaviors vary drastically. Some go out to smoke, others talk by the water fountain, others walk from office to office, others draft e-mails to their friends. The list goes on and on.

If you could time the unproductive behavior of each member on your team, the results could surprise you. He is likely well within the norm of your team and within limits of normal human work behavior.

I think the issue is, game playing is such an overt act of unproductivity and a slap in the face. So the question becomes, is he less productive or are you stinging from the slap?

Be careful in your attempts to minimize unproductive behavior. The results could be exactly opposite for what you hope.

  • I agree with you wholeheartedly. Especially on the fact that gameplaying is easy to judge as unproductive. As I posted above, the guy is neither fast nor slow. Or it's better to say that he was slow, did some improvement but is still slower than other programmer, both working in company for the same time. This may be the reason why I feel the slap in my face little harder. Commented Apr 28, 2011 at 9:38

Whenever I see or hear about someone playing a game, watching videos, reading the news or whatever is not job related, I beg to ask the question what's the deliverable they are working on and why do they have nothing to do? These two points being the responsibility of their PM or team lead.

If they produce what is expected of them, leave them alone, peer pressure will take care of their behaviour if it is going to be a problem.

If they do not produce what is expected of them, then there is no point in tackling the game playing. What needs to be tackled is why they do not produce what is required from them. Are they waiting on someone, is there a blocking issue that stops them, are they themselves demotivated by their team or boss?

Lastly, everybody needs some form of break during the work day. Some of those breaks involve interaction with other people, sometimes online if that is possible. Personally, I use my phone to get in touch with people who matter to me. In a previous job I have put some time aside for playing board games with workmates, and even occasionally with our CEO. It all depends on context, frequency and whether of course you deliver the goods.


You said that you wanted to coach him rather than force him to stop playing. Try asking him to install some kind of tool that measures how much time he spends with specific tools/IDEs, websites and so on. Than you can talk with him about the results.

It worked suprisingly well for me when I asked my teammates to measure how much time do they spend on each activities. I never took any consequences from it - I didn't have to. When they realised they are surfing the Internet or reading news or so on for 2h a day they reduced it.

We have tried:

  • RescueTime - it has a nice feature of setting goals. For example "I want to use instant messenger for less than 0.5 hour a day.
  • ManicTime - my teammates liked it more
  • Good idea. As you were leaving it up to them self-correct, legitimate browsing (whatever is appropriate in your sector) wouldn't be affected. Did you find a cross-platform version (including UNIX, Mac, & Linux)?
    – Phil Lello
    Commented Apr 28, 2011 at 23:05
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    I didn't need cross-platform one, however RescueTime stores data in the cloud and as far as I know it has data collector clients for all MAC and Linux as well - try the download page Commented Apr 29, 2011 at 6:53

If you've attempted to coach the employee, and after a month, this waste of space is still playing games instead of pulling his weight, then maybe it's time to escalate this to someone who can actually take some formal action on this person.

This is now progressing beyond just the psychological impact on the other productive team members. This person is essentially stealing from the company. 1/6 of the amount of resources allocated to this project is being flushed down the toilet, and no business should tolerate this sort of employee theft.

If you haven't already started documenting this behavior, I would start now. You'll want to have some good, thorough documentation to approach your (or his) manager with. Having documentation will result in a much faster resolution to this problem than if you simply rely on the manager to make these observations.

Another tactic, although not a permanent solution, would be to contact IT and have them block the gaming site he's visiting. Or even better: ask IT staff to check problematic person's internet activity logs -- this way you have both documentation of the behavior and a nice tool to discuss with the guy, e.g. "no need to switch screens when I enter the room, it's there, you see?" Either way, this just masks the symptoms of a much greater problem.

The best solution is to either find out what's bothering this person and fix it, or start the process of trying to rid yourself of this cancer.

  • Regarding blocking sites: it never works - you can always find another site or, in the worst case, spend hours trying to by-pass limitation. It's better to ask IT folks to check logs from guy's internet activity and of course make him aware you have this information. (Btw: I added the idea to the answer) Commented Apr 26, 2011 at 7:42
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    @pawel: I must disagree with you about internet logs & blocking stuff. In my view, it's kind of increase the space between the manager & the developer, put the developer in the defense. This approach may fix problem in short time, but not solve the root of the problem. Commented Apr 26, 2011 at 9:34
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    @pawel - Blocking is definitely not a permanent solution. It's merely a band-aid that eventually falls off. I thought that was clear in my answer. Why? We can't block the entire Internet, and there is always going to be something these people find to occupy their time inefficiently.
    – jmort253
    Commented Apr 26, 2011 at 14:25
  • I'm sorry jmort, but I must also disagree. We have not analyzed the reason for playing games. As others have already mentioned, most people waste more time in the workplace than we'd like to admit. Some people will get up and take a walk, some people will chat with co-workers, others will surf the web. If he's accomplishing his deliverables and isnt slowing down the project, let him be. Micro-managing will only cause resentment. The OP already mentioned he was a bit average/ below average, so as long as he picks it up, leave him be.
    – Farooq
    Commented Jun 8, 2011 at 16:04
  • You keep your mediocre, below average game player. Give him a raise if you want. As for me, I want winners on my team.
    – jmort253
    Commented Jun 9, 2011 at 5:44

Take a step back and assess your observations first

  1. What is wrong in the person's behaviour?

  2. It is just unprofessional conduct? is it reducing his productivity?

  3. How is it affecting other people in the team? How do they see it?

  4. What would you like to be done/changed and why?

Armed with the above answers if you see enough pressing evidence/reasons to change the person's habit then armed with that evidence see his immediate leadership and put forward your concerns and take it from there...


It could also be a warning sign that the employee (or whole team) is under-utilised, or bored.

The right approach to take depends on whether or not they are valuable to the company (and feel it), or a disposable asset.

Is this the only culprit, or the only one that gets noticed because of the monitor angle?


Interesting, is he missing deadlines? Does he not have enough to do. Are other team members starting to play games? If there are no repurcussions, why do you need him to change? If there are repurcussions, does his manager need to know?


If that situation concerns you not him - it's a good sign of poor management. The employee is not discharged and was not penalized in any other way after a month of playing. Your rules of work are not effective. Very soon you will start loosing A-people.

Get back to your ground rules and review them. Whether you measure performance objectively? Whether you reward/penalize people objectively?


Since you're leaning more towards the coaching/mentorship role rather than direct manager, I suggest making the individual more aware of their accountability. There is an increasing number of programs that help track time and help with productivity, many of which also include smart phone applications.

This can be mandated for that individual or for the team. Although it has a Big Brother ring to it and many on the team may feel targeted in the crossfire towards disciplining one individual, there are ways around this. For instance, the information does not need to be collected and can serve only to help them manage their own time, while strategically speaking to the individual about their work habits.

Suggested programs include a number of extensions and add-ons for browsers (Chrome/Firefox) that track web history and time spent on each domain. Other software like "Toggl" tracks time in general and can be purchased with a team license or free to try.

There is the ethical factor that has not been addressed, as this individual is being paid to perform and adhere to the culture and rules of the organization. If they are wasting their spending time, they are also wasting the company’s time and potentially making an improper earning. Especially in tough economic times like today, many people out of work and I am sure that any one of them would trade anything for their position.

If the matter is immaturity then a more direct approach is needed. I am not suggesting terminating or disciplining the employee but sometimes the hardest lessons are those that need to be learned through experience. These situations call for special skills that can be learned from real life coaches that deal with rough personalities, big egos and high stake situations. Often applying the wrong amount of pressure can backfire and have the individual shut down and feel betrayed. If you are interested in investigating this approach, I suggest looking into resources of teaching or coaching troubled youth or talent.

If they continue to not take their work seriously then there may be something deeper going on than the lack of motivation or ungratefulness; perhaps relationship or family trouble. As a coach investigate these, by befriending from a distance and not getting emotionally attached or personally involved.

If all fails, don't be discouraged. You did your best to wisely inform this individual to shape up and their negative influence spreading to others. It is also potential learning experience for you. Remember to always keep your cool; as a coach you have vested time and effort in this individual, but their eventual success or failure can only be determined by them alone. Best of luck!

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