When Toxic Team Members Need a Wakeup Call

Posted by Kristin Arnold on July 10, 2008

When it comes to teamwork, most of us think we are pretty good team players.  We participate; we offer opinions; we help when we can; we ask for feedback so we can be a better teammate, etc.

Unfortunately, some people are not even mediocre team players.  They are simply toxic to the team.  You know who I am talking about.  Toxic people suck the life out of other people.  Every time they open their mouths, it’s about what’s wrong with the world, who did what to whom and why others make their world so difficult.  They are simply miserable and want to share their misery with anyone who will listen.

The sad thing is that you have to listen to that garbage!  Before you know it, you are infected with the toxic virus and start spewing the same garbage.

Surely, all of us can have a bad day, a bad week, a bad month, or even a bad year.  We’re not talking about those folks.  They need our help and support through a relatively brief period of time.  On the flip side, chronically toxic people need a quick, swift kick in the can.  (Okay, spare the physical violence, but these people have spent years perfecting the art of polluting every great idea or possibility.)

Toxic people need a significant emotional event to jar them from their toxic behavior.  You may ask, “What kind of significant emotional event?”  For example, the team leader calls them on the behavior — first in private, and if that doesn’t work, the team calls them on the behavior while all team members are present.

Give the toxic person direct, objective, specific feedback between the eyes. 

Calmly describe the impact of the toxic behavior on the team’s performance and relationships.  Describe the consequences of the inability or unwillingness to change the behavior.

And, as a last resort, if they can’t get their act together, kick them off the team.  If you have done everything in your power to buff them up, upgrade their team skills and bring them up to an acceptable level of team behavior, then you are doing your team a disservice to keep them on the team.

No one likes to kick someone off the team, but it’s certainly the avenue of last resort that you should not be afraid to explore.

Question:  If you spot a toxic team member, what will you do to make sure they don’t infect your team?

KRISTIN ARNOLD, MBA, CPF, 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 20 years.  She is the author of the award-winning book, Boring to Bravo: Proven Presentation Techniques to Engage, Involve and Inspire Audiences to Action.

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