Toxic team behaviours

I often say that there are no perfect people. We are all human. But having said that, there are some people that are more human than others. 😊 And when dysfunctional behaviour by team members continues over time, it can have a toxic effect on a team’s morale and performance.

Here are 8 behaviours in teams that become toxic when tolerated over time.

  1. Disrespect: I have heard awful stories of team members yelling and swearing at their colleagues. But disrespect can also be subtle and hurtful - the tone used, facial expressions, snorts of derisiveness and personal attacks (ok, the last two are not so subtle). When disrespectful behaviour is tolerated at work, this sets a very low benchmark for behaviour that will be accepted.
  2. Negativity and gossip: Yes, we all need to vent from time to time. But it is important to put some limits, both on the number of people we speak to and how long we stay in that unhappy place. Some people become stuck in their misery, refuse to take constructive action, and draw others into their negativity.
  3. Unresolved conflict: I know colleagues who have not spoken to each other in years. Conflict that is ongoing and unresolved tends to result in frustrations increasing to the point where they come out badly – a verbal explosion, a formal grievance, or a team fragmenting. Not speaking to each other for long periods, for example, is also completely unprofessional.

    Certainly, there are times when we simply need to get over frustrations with colleagues by ourselves. But when frustrations are ongoing and are beyond what can be reasonably tolerated, we need to speak up. However, as I often say to my children, what we say needs to be truthful, helpful, kind and well-timed.

  4. Defensiveness to feedback: It is a great personal flaw to act as if we don’t have any. Defensiveness to feedback only makes it harder for people to resolve concerns and becomes a barrier to becoming better at what we do. While constructive feedback that is unexpected or seen as unfair can trigger an emotional response, we need to self-control and consider if there are any gems hidden in the feedback, even if it is given poorly.
  5. Being seen as unreliable or untrustworthy: Behaviours that destroy trust include not doing what we say we will, not performing to reasonable expectations, behaving in inconsistent unpredictable ways, and being perceived as having a hidden agenda. If we are seen as unreliable or untrustworthy, this is a killer to strong, positive, team relationships.
  6. Not considering others: Certainly, if you live on a desert island, you don’t have to consider anyone apart from yourself. But when we work in teams, we have to consider others. That is, if we want to have strong working relationships. One example being the flow-on effect when information is not provided in a timely way by a colleague.
  7. Being passive, not showing initiative: Here I am thinking of team members who sit passively in meetings, who focus simply on their own work rather than helping their colleagues, or who wait for directives rather than taking responsibility for addressing a challenge. Passive teams might be peaceful. But they are not high-performing.
  8. Resisting change: Most people would say that change is ongoing and seems to be happening at a faster pace. While we are allowed to have mixed feelings about certain changes, people who continually resist change are going to get left behind. They are also not considering the needs of their leadership or workplace. Long-serving staff and leaders who resist change are the most toxic in this regard as their behaviour is setting a bad example for their colleagues.

The reality for some of us is that we are currently dealing with a number of toxic behaviours in our team. Sometimes, these behaviours are all coming from the same person. 😊

Assuming that the team members concerned have a capacity for change, there are a number of things we can do to help. We can, of course, genuinely care for people asking if they are ok, address any underlying factors and provide appropriate support.

We also need to explain why those behaviours are a problem. When doing so, it is important to let people save face, reassuring them that you know their behaviour is not done with this intention. But we do need to explain why the behaviour needs to improve and be prepared to give reminders and repeat the explanations.

We also need to be clear about the behaviour we want to see from everyone in the team, which are often the opposite of the above:

  1. Being respectful to colleagues
  2. Contributing positively in the workplace
  3. Resolving difficulties when they arise
  4. Being open to feedback
  5. Being reliable and trustworthy
  6. Considering our colleagues
  7. Showing initiative
  8. Embracing and engaging with change

I often hear people say that a particular team member has been allowed to get away with certain behaviours for way too long. So, it is essential that managers know they have the support of their supervisor in holding people accountable.

Remember to expect improvement, not perfection. But, ultimately, it is the behaviour, good or bad, that is dominant in a workplace that determines the culture of that workplace.

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