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July 28, 2011 / David Bleeker

The way to kill a team (or at least make life really miserable)…

Most teams have one. At least one individual who is not pulling their weight, hard to get along with or consistently pulling in the opposite direction from the rest of the team.

I am not talking about personality conflicts, or differences of opinion. Radio and television talk shows are testimony to the spark and life that healthy difference brings to a situation. Most teams are healthy even when there is a difference of opinion combined with mutual respect. This is different. A sometimes quiet, insidious undermining of the teams values, energy and execution.

Roger (not his real name) spent most of the time pointing out the reasons why ideas would not work. Every meeting ended with some debate over potential issues, however small or unlikely. He was right of course. At least on some counts. He brought company experience to the table, knowing the inside channels and back doors helped make it easier to cut through red tape. He also possessed an understanding of the applications we were redesigning. He had tremendous value in terms of what he knew, but the team hated him.

The problem for Roger is that he always stopped short of providing answers. His focus was solely on the issues and problems. He could not bring himself to be positive about what the rest of the team was doing. Despite my coaching, he never made the leap.

Given his length of tenure with the organization, he felt that control and knowledge was slipping from his hands. There were others doing what he was doing and, because of his attitude toward the changes, they were not inclined to pay attention to him anymore. His negativity was an indirect plea for help. The sad thing is, Roger never could get over the fact that life was changing under his feet. The company was moving on, and no amount of prodding helped Roger see the good in what was to come.

When it became evident that Roger was not able to make the leap it was time to let him go.

Once Roger was removed from the picture, the team revitalized, recommitted and began to execute at top speed. Sure it was tough having to dig for answers, but they came faster than we expected. It seemed that despite Roger’s skills and understanding, he was weighing the team down. That experience was quite eye-opening, and the lessons learned have been validated over and over again.

Here are the key things to remember when building your team:

  • Sometimes folks have personality or age differences that make it difficult for them to blend without assistance. It is important that you as a manager facilitate the appropriate blending. Sometimes that means isolating team members and finding effective ways to engage. It doesn’t mean everyone needs to be in the same close herd, although it helps.
  • Be watchful for negative or destructive forces in the team. Your most positive team members can turn on you for reasons beyond your control. Be prepared to deal with changing attitudes.
  • Help your team absorb change. A lot of damage is done by not observing the emotional well being of the folks that report to you. Folks don’t just “suck it up!” Even the hardiest are affected by change.
  • Deal with the negative attitudes quickly. The more you let it drag on, the more your team will disintegrate. Identify issues quickly and work through the conflict in a compassionate, growth-oriented way. Set deadlines and stick to them. Reward the team member(s) when they adapt and realign.
  • Listen and understand what is really happening when folks are acting up.

Would love to hear your stories and lessons learned. Comments anyone?

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One Comment

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  1. Vin D'Amico / Jul 29 2011 6:00 am

    Good points! I’ve witnessed and heard about many teams being dragged down by someone who is not a good fit. It’s usually not about a ‘bad’ person. It’s a good person in the wrong situation. The first time I experienced this as a manager, it was difficult to handle and even more difficult for the team. The situation just dragged on. Since then, I’ve learned that decisive action is needed. Everyone is better off…especially the problem person.

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