Keep in mind that I am talking about toxic teams, not toxic bosses. I could write a book, huh? (Read Meghan M. Biro’s excellent TalentCulture article on this topic, if that’s what you currently are wrestling with.)
It’s bad enough when you recognize and regulate toxic customers that suck the life-blood out of you.
It’s another enchilada when you are a member of a toxic workplace team. Ultimately, the workarounds, infighting and non-collaborative activities of toxic teams impair team output and the success of your customers.
Are you a member of a toxic sales team, engineering team, customer service team, you-name-it-workplace-team?
People are not hired because they fit well into a toxic team.
It’s important to remember that toxic teams are not consciously created for that specific purpose. However, at some point, at least one member exerts a dysfunctional influence that drags down the energy, productivity and profitability of the entire team. That member may not even have the most dominant personality. However, over time they exert the most dominating, and negative, impact on the entire team.
There usually are some options that individual team members undertake when they realize their team has become toxic:
- Ignore the obvious and hope the dysfunction is temporary (a form of doing nothing, see #6).
- Address the obvious one-on-one, and become disheartened over time when the team member is non-responsive, dismissive and possibly aggressive.
- Blow up at the team member, one-on-one, which immediately creates drama and lots of gossip but fails to resolve the issue.
- Discuss with management, HR and leadership for resolution, but no productive action is taken.
- Become increasingly frustrated, anxious and resentful about working with the team.
- Put up, shut up and continue to do nothing.
- Give up and look for another position.
When the going gets rough, the team must get going.
High-functioning teams are organic in mindset and behavior. They treat the spreading toxicity as a team-wide issue, not a per-person issue. Everyone becomes responsible and accountable for detoxifying the team.
When you consider that the majority of workplace “teams” are teams in name only, this strategy can be daunting. Workplace teams typically are comprised of individual hires who have homogeneous professional resumes. It takes hard work to turn a group of individuals into a team.
That type of hard work takes more than group growth activities and going out for drinks.
High-functioning teams truly become high-functioning teams when everyone rolls up their sleeves and deals with issues requiring them to make some hard calls: issues like addressing the root causes of team dysfunction. Everyone on the team is a causal factor contributing to and sustaining a toxic team if they continue to do nothing about the situation.
Establish your team charter first.
Interventions for toxic teams can be facilitated. Better yet, consider creating a team charter for dealing with dysfunction. What’s important about this exercise is that your clients can be toxic as well. Projects be toxic, even when the team is terrific.
The work you do in creating a protocol and set of agreements on how to deal with dysfunction serves everyone over the long haul.
Focus on developing processes for:
Incorporating a discussion of team toxicity into team meetings at least on a weekly basis. If you are transparent with each other, these issues have no opportunity to fester over time. Allocate a reasonable amount of time for discussing dysfunction. However, this topic never should have the opportunity to become the main event.
Identifying the signs and symptoms of toxicity in the team. Is someone having a bad day or is a team member being marginalized or is a team member feeling incompetent? There are big differences behind the root causes contributing to these three variables.
Becoming forensic in uncovering the true root cause of the behaviors leading to the creation of toxic teams. A member might be having personal issues or resent being underappreciated and overlooked for promotion. Or they may feel they are in way over their head regarding the core competencies required to do their job.
Prioritizing the various root causes identified. Prioritization keeps team members focused on why they are a team in the first place. The team’s mission is to impact the success of their customers, which ultimately impacts retention of that customer. Team competencies are what makes high-functioning teams valuable. Each member’s worth is reinforced each week when root causes of dysfunction are prioritized relative to their impact on customer engagement and customer success.
Toxic teams can be rehabilitated and recalibrated.
Sometimes it is hard to gain perspective when it is crunch time and everyone is focused on making their numbers, decreasing non-billable hours and meeting nearly impossible deadlines.
That’s why having a team charter in place for dealing with dysfunction becomes critical to team success. Collectively address potential toxic scenarios, at least weekly. The team eventually gets to a point where they catch themselves before they go down that rabbit hole again.
Over time, toxic teams recalibrate their behavior due to their team protocol for dealing with dysfunction. New team members are onboarded into a healthier team environment, as well.
Your customers will appreciate your strategy.
Babette Ten Haken is a management consultant, strategist, coach, author and speaker. She is the Founder and President of Sales Aerobics for Engineers®, LLC. Babette has one of the most distinctive voices in today’s workforce, professional development and customer success communities. She traverses the interface between human capital strategy for hiring and developing collaborative technical and non-technical employees. Babette’s playbook of technical / non-technical collaboration hacks, Do YOU Mean Business? is available on Amazon.
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