Deal with toxic teammates


Zachary Aldwin  : Milkshake in the Boardroom

The last few weeks we have spent some time looking at corporate culture and the significance of having a positive culture around you. One of the greatest impacts on team culture is not external but internal; from the very members themselves. Every now and again you are going to find that you have a toxic teammate. Like a poorly maintained commuter omnibus this individual spews toxic fumes through your team via their words and behaviour. Left unchecked they can pollute those around them and derail your efforts.The critic, as their name implies, criticises everything. I mean everything. They are incredibly negative with nothing good to say about work, business, or the world in general. Every suggestion gets shut down by fault finding, every circumstance is a disaster and if they had their way we should all stay in bed every day because life is a miserable failure. Except of course that if you stay in bed you may choke on your pillow.

There is no pleasing these people. Overtime, their negativity infects others who in turn start failing to see any silver lining.

The passive sits in the corner, unengaged, disconnected, and waits. They offer no input, wait to be volunteered, and have no motivation. They may go as far as fiddling with their phone or tablet during the meeting and if they were not there, well no one would miss them.

The blamer, as opposed to the passive, is often eager to volunteer. He promises high but rarely delivers. When he fails to perform somehow it is never his fault. There is always an excuse and some circumstance to blame for his laziness and ineptitude. What is worse is that he genuinely believes the excuses – he is not making them up. If he can get away with it, others will think they can too.

The know-it-all never shuts up. This is the deadpool of the team, just not as funny. Their opinion on how we should do it is broadcast loudly and incessantly. They offer help that is unsolicited but inappropriate. Often they do not have the expertise or skill to back up what they are saying. These are the characters that when they open their mouth in a meeting, and they will, everyone groans inwardly.

They believe they are helping, that they are useful yet often they are a distraction. Their inability to filter their input means that anything truly meaningful they say gets lost in the babble.

The captain of the World is the pedantic rule bearer. They follow a complex set of laws that cannot be bent or changed. Say you get to the canteen and there is no one else there. Instead of going through the long set of railings that keep the usual queues in order you pop underneath them to get to the front.

The captain of the World is the person who complains and insists you go through them. These are people unwilling to change. They are motivated by a deep internal fear that something will go wrong and project this onto everyone else.

Each type of toxic teammate needs to be dealt with. For many of us, we occasionally portray some of the behaviours outlined above.

It is unlikely that most toxics start out that way, they develop overtime as dissolution, laziness and entitlement creep into their mind-set. Be on your guard for such behaviour in your life and in those of your teammates. Call out negative behaviour. Reward the positive.

In calling it out, start by doing so privately. Deal with any root issues or circumstances that may have changed and caused a rise in the toxicity level.

If it persists then you may need to have a more aggressive approach. Act! Do not wait. Toxic behaviour spreads if not managed. Remove the critic. Find a way to engage the passive, consider moving them to another team or role that they are passionate about. Call the blamer to account. Give the know-it-all strict guidelines and parameters of operation.


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