How to Deal with a Toxic Team

What creates a team’s culture and communication style? In this video, we discuss toxicity in teams and actions that help teams communicate much more effectively.

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Toxicity at Work

Today I’m excited to be talking to you about toxic behavior, toxicity in teams and how it can be addressed so that you can have a thriving culture. If you truly pay attention to your common sense, you start noticing behaviors that are not necessarily those you would wish for, even for yourself. Disrespect, gossiping, people who stop talking when somebody else enters the room, necessary discussions not taking place out in the open but in the corridors and behind closed doors. When it simply seems difficult to put things on the table.

How to spot “malaise” in teams

All the above are expressions of malaise. When there is a malaise, sooner or later the system or team will start developing toxins within it as a defensive mechanism. It erodes trust, trust which is at the foundation of any team performing well. When you want to have a team that is effective, that is looking forward, that deals with the real issue at hand, there needs to be trust. You need be able to count on each other, be accountable towards each other. There is the need to also be honest with each other and call out things that need to be addressed. When that cannot happen and there is no trust, then this is where expressions of malaise start to appear and toxins and toxic behaviors start to be seen.

So why is it so important to be addressing toxic behaviors?

They really are the expression of a trust that has been eroded and they erode the trust in return as well. When there is no trust, there simply is no high performing team. Trust and performance are totally connected. It’s not necessarily coming from the boss. It absolutely can come from team members. In a way, instigation of toxic behaviors is absolutely democratically shared. And yet, I would say that the main issue is not the “who” of it.

The question for me (and to leaders and team members) when I see toxicity surfacing is: Why do you accept it? Why do you tolerate that?

Because when we tolerate it, that means we include it into the culture. The culture is just the expression of how we behave together and towards each other. So, the moment we accept that this cynicism is part of the way we interact with each other for example, it then becomes the culture. So, you are de facto including toxicity into your culture.

Contempt is not accepted, nor are disrespect and passive aggressive behaviors. We can list a number of them and I advise teams when they see that in each other to say “hold on a minute, we stop it there. That’s not how we want to be. Let’s discuss how we address that within our team, how we want to be with each other and how we want to behave towards each other when this particular topic comes up again.”

We are all human

Those are very human behaviors. We all go there when we are frustrated around something. So that is very human. It is not about saying “this won’t happen”, but when it happens, we must decide how we speak and listen together. “I hear your frustration. Let’s deal with it together.” One thing that I really like to think of and work with is a team agreement. Within the team agreement, we open a chapter about conflict protocols. Talking about conflicts before they even happen would be a very healthy thing to do, one that would be a signal of a very mature team actually. Because you can talk about possible disagreement before they even happen. When you have decided that yelling is not the way. Gossiping is not the way. Passive aggressive is not the way. So, if you decide a number of those things and you say that they will not be tolerated, then you start saying at the same time:

When we have disagreements, what is the way we want to be with each other and handle those by holding each other equally accountable?”

It’s all about trust

The way you want teams to function is first rooted in trust. Trust is at the base of everything. And when you have trust, you can have conflicts. Once you are able to deal with conflicts within a team and maturely address them, then that creates a sense of collective commitment. In which you feel that you are responsible for more than just your part. There’s a sense of collective accountability.

One of my mentors once said something that really resonated with me in terms of culture and the culture of a team. In fact, the culture is defined by the people living within the team, bringing certain behaviors to the table. You know, you can put a set of values on the wall, such as respect, determination etc. But if the behaviors are not aligned with that, that’s not the culture of the team.

The culture of the team is the way people are with each other. I would say the culture of the team is also defined by the worst behavior tolerated. If the worst behavior tolerated will be being disrespectful towards each other, it is going to be a culture of disrespect. When I work with teams and I see that they accept contempt, I tell them right away: “You have created a culture of contempt. You accept that contempt is part of your culture. It takes time for an individual to change behavior. It is not done overnight.

I’m talking to individuals who are ready to go there and ready to work in a different way with each other. This is where we will have team agreements, team alignment, a conflict protocol and learn to construct mindfully, consciously and in a very bespoke way. We construct ways of working together in a very articulated way.

Thank you for listening to me about this topic that I’m passionate about and that I see more and more happening in my conversations with leaders these days.

If you are interested in experiencing culture change for yourself or for your teams, just contact me on my LinkedIn Bogliolo Coaching & Consulting. And I’ll be happy to have a conversation with you, to tell you with greater detail how I approach things.

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