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Do You Have a Toxic Team Member?

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You’re a good leader. Your team is successful, but there is one team member who is always contrary, who always causes trouble, and who is keeping your team from reaching the high levels you know they’re capable of. You have a toxic team member

What do you do?

This can be a complex subject; after all you’re dealing with humans. Remember, everyone has a bad day. But, when every day seems to be a bad day it’s time to take action. There are some techniques that can potentially deal with the problem, but first take a look at yourself. Ask yourself a few questions.

• Have I created a team environment that encourages input from all team members?
• Have I encouraged a team culture that stimulates robust discussion of issues and problems and welcomes good conflict?
• Have I developed a team culture that does not allow bad conflict?

If you can say yes to these questions, it’s time to address the individual team member who is disruptive. Remember, this is a person and although it may seem they are trying to be a pain, you don’t know their whole story. Always treat team members with respect, even the difficult ones.

To start, try these steps.

• Find out why this person is a problem. Is there an incident in the past that soured them to the team or the company? Do they feel their contributions are not fully appreciated? If you learn the reason behind their behavior you may be able to help them resolve the problem. This will likely require some effort on your part. At the very least, sit down with them and get to know more about them. Be careful about putting too much value on what others may say. Their comments may be useful, but they may also have their own problems with this individual.

• Let the person speak. They may have something valuable to contribute even though it seems like they’re just complaining. But, don’t just let them spout off. Make them defend their position. Ask challenging questions to determine why the person has a disagreement. This isn’t playing “gotcha.” It’s an opportunity for them to explain why they disagree. Often that will overcome just being a malcontent and help them become a more positive member of the team.

• Always be prepared to intervene. Although you want to give this person a voice and help them become a more functioning member of the team, you must still be ready to stop them if they become belligerent or foment bad conflict.

• As always, carefully document everything. Good records may become necessary

Unfortunately, there are occasionally team members who are just toxic. For whatever reason, they seem dedicated to destroying the team.                                         

These toxic team members are argumentative, abrasive, and perhaps even abusive and bullying.

First, a note of caution.

Sometimes a team member will have great value to the team, or perhaps have a unique skill set. That makes it seem like they are indispensable and must be kept on the team even though they are toxic. Don’t be fooled. In the long run the negative impact they have on the team is greater than whatever value they have to the team.

You must nip this problem as early as possible.

But how?

There are a series of steps that will lead you to a solution.

• Take the steps recommended above. Remember to carefully document those conversations and your actions.

• If that approach has failed, it’s time to be very upfront with the individual. Inform them that their behavior and actions are damaging the team and you cannot allow that. Give them a definite written list of changes you expect to see. This should not be a lengthy discussion. Don’t get into an argument about your perceptions or the individuals behavior. Simply state the facts as you see them and provide the written list.

• Schedule a follow-up discussion for a day or two later. Don’t put this off.

• The follow-up session is where you can allow them to talk; but, make two points clear.
      o You want the person to continue to be a valuable member of the team, but,
      o You will not allow them to destroy the team.

• Again, make sure you carefully document all your actions.

Hopefully you will begin to see changes in this person, but if you don’t, it’s time to discuss options with your HR and possibly the legal team. Also, keep your own boss informed of the situation and your actions. They may have helpful suggestions.

Another note of caution. Make sure the team member really is toxic to the team. Just because they disagree with someone else’s ideas or are having a bad week doesn’t make them toxic.

If you can’t turn the toxic team member around and have to replace them on the team, don’t consider it a failure on your part.

Remember. Your job is to lead the team and fully support your team members. That doesn’t mean trying to help a person who doesn’t want to be helped. In fact, consider it a success that you have helped your team become more productive and effective.

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