How to Deal with Common Disruptive Team Behaviors

Posted by Kristin Arnold on June 8, 2021

Each individual comes to the team with an agenda.  When each person’s agenda coincides with the team’s agenda, no problem!  However, when one person’s agenda is out of whack with the team’s, you now have a “hidden agenda” or a “disruptive” team member.  

While easy to ignore in the beginning, these behaviors continue to build, creating resentment within the team.  At the beginning of each team meeting, prevent disruptions by agreeing on team ground rules.  Make sure team members share the responsibility for reinforcing the ground rules.

When disruptive behaviors keep the team from moving forward, remind the team of the ground rules.  If the behavior persists, privately give constructive feedback to focus their behaviors in more appropriate ways.  

For the most part, people don’t want to disrupt the team’s progress.  When disruptive behavior occurs, ask questions directed toward the behavior and not the person.  Clarifying the cause of the behavior contributes to effective communications and will enable everyone to identify, relate to and understand whatever it takes to keep the team functioning effectively.

Here are some common disruptive roles and behaviors:

“The Attacker” deflates the spirits of other team members by criticizing them.  Establish a ground rule to attack issues and not the person.  Ask the attacker to summarize both sides of the issue.  Intervene if they continue to attack and remind them of the ground rule.

“The Clown” ridicules others, making jokes at the expense of others.  A little humor can be a great asset to the team, but the clown goes overboard.  Redirect the clown’s attention with serious questions.  If the behavior persists, appeal to the comedian to balance the team’s work and have a good time as well.

“The Cynic” opposes the team and disagrees beyond reason.  Ask them to share the “whys” of their perspective.  Use light-hearted humor to point out the negativity.  Challenge the team to find ways around the problem.

“The Dominator” monopolizes airtime.  Establish a ground rule to balance participation such as “all participate…no one dominates.”  Avoid eye contact to discourage the dominator from continuing the monologue.

“The Interrupter” constantly interrupts the speaker or starts side conversations with other team members.  Establish ground rules such as “no side conversations” or “one person speaks at a time.”  Stand your ground when they interrupt; hold your hand up and say, “I’d like to continue…”

“The Loner” withdraws by being aloof, silent, or indifferent.  Ask open-ended questions to invite their participation.  Draw them into the discussion by going around the room asking for input.  Ask each team member to write his or her ideas down on paper first.  Get the loner involved by asking them to post charts on the wall, keep time, hand out materials, etc.

“The Movie Star” craves attention.  The star boasts and tells others about their accomplishments.  To minimize distractions, be attentive before and after the team meetings and during breaks.  During the meeting, give the movie star something to keep them occupied, such as recording the discussion.

“The Prisoner” is forced to be on the team.  Turn the prisoner’s resentment into a beneficial “reality check” for the team.  Link their work to business results and performance.  Over time, the prisoner will realize the benefits of being part of the team.

“The Last Word” has to have the last word on a topic.  Give everyone two poker chips and call them “last word chips.”  Anyone on the team can use one of the chips when they want the last word.  No new chips are distributed until everyone has had a turn at having the last word.

While there are others, these are the most common.  What other roles have you seen?


KRISTIN ARNOLD, MBA, CPF | Master, CSP is a high-stakes meeting facilitator and professional panel moderator.  She’s been facilitating teams of executives and managers in making better decisions and achieving greater results for over 27 years.  She is the author of the award-winning book, Boring to Bravo: Proven Presentation Techniques to Engage, Involve and Inspire Audiences to Action.  Her latest book, 123 Ways to Add Pizazz to a Panel Discussion was published in January 2021.

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KRISTIN ARNOLD, MBA, CSP, CPF|Master has been facilitating meaningful conversations between executives and managers to make better decisions and achieve extraordinary results for 25+ years. She's a leading authority on moderating panel discussions and passionate about finding the perfect olive to complement a vodka martini.

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