What if you can’t fix a toxic team?

Business is all about collaboration, but what if you are dealing with a toxic team? A team where members look at each other when a remark is made to find out how the others will respond and who will explode. A team where one of the members is the constant disturbing factor. Hopefully, you haven’t experienced those kind of teams, but they do exist.

In fact, I shouldn’t call them a team at all. A toxic team is often just a collection of individuals that are not really working together to create synergy. They think they are, but in reality, they are fighting each other and are involved in turf wars protecting their own territory, and, worse even, trying to gain parts of their colleague’s territory.

I’ve been called in to help teams like this a couple of times. In most situations, I have been able to guide them in a turnaround. With these teams, I follow a process similar to this team development process, inspired by the work of Patrick Lencioni, Simon Sinek, and Marshall Goldsmith. Success is clearly there when I can experience the difference between the first session and the last. In the first session, the atmosphere is often dense and people are careful with their words. In the last session, the atmosphere is relaxed and I sometimes can have a real challenge to silence their jokes at the beginning of the session. A clear sign that my work is done and this team is back on track, ready to move on without me. A rewarding moment!

However, some cases are less successful. At hindsight, it wasn’t about the team. It was about one individual that was not willing to change. They show desired behavior during the process, they act as if they are changing. But when things are heating up and the trouble hits the fan, they are stressed and fall back into their old behavior. Then for them, everyone else is to blame and they can perfectly explain what the others did wrong. They themselves? They are always right.

These are toxic individuals. They don’t fit into this team and probably not into any team. Whatever their specialty or perceived value to your team, these individuals are beyond help and should be let go as soon as possible. They will do more harm than good to your team.

A good team coach will notice this early on during the initial intake. He or she will then go back to the client and advise them to let go of the toxic individual or will give back the coaching assignment. Otherwise, it will be a lost game at the beginning.

The first step in changing a team starts with yourself as a leader. Analyze your team and look at the members who are slowing down the synergy. How can you help them for the better, or is it time for them to flourish somewhere else?

 


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