Team Building

4 Questions to Explore and Course Correct Toxic Teams

One of the most demotivating and performance-inhibiting factors of professional life is spending your time surrounded by toxic behaviors within a team. When it's clear that team members are not working in tandem, or supporting the different parts that make up the whole, you've likely got some significant problems to work through that cause more than just frustration. If this sounds like a situation you're dealing with, whether you're a leader, team member, or consultant, you'll want to start by taking a look at the foundation of your team.

1. Does your team share a united purpose? 

For teams to be aligned, all members must have the same overarching purpose. In their own words, each person should be able to state why the team exists, what value they provide to the organization, who their stakeholders and customers are, and how these audiences benefit from the team’s contributions. Without this clarity, team members focus on different priorities and can end up pulling the group in different directions unintentionally. If team members don't have the same perceptions about purpose, you know where to start the work to course-correcting your team. Holding a team building workshop that helps team members establish, focus, and align on the same purpose is the first step to creating a stronger foundation and removing toxicity from your team. A purpose-driven workshop can also help uncover any naysayers that may not be a good fit for the team. When someone doesn't believe in the mission of the group, they hold enough weight to bring toxicity to the team's culture, causing a waste in resources, diminished morale, lack of trust, and lower engagement. Not only does this hurt performance, but it also creates unwanted distress and conflict. Creating a purpose the team can connect and unite on is crucial in combating toxicity.

2. Are team roles and responsibilities clear?

When you've established a clear purpose for your team, you'll want to make sure that individual roles and responsibilities trace back to the purpose. If significant efforts are focused on work that doesn't benefit the purpose, you've discovered another area to target for improvement. In this case, you might need to revisit the conversation around purpose to understand why your team’s current priorities are missing the mark. Every team has its administrative and tedious housekeeping tasks to maintain, but they should not impact your team’s more high-profile deliverables. You might need to set priorities that clarify how and why resources get allocated to ensure you’re able to meet the goals set by your company and still cover your baseline responsibilities.

After you've established role clarity and clearly divided responsibilities, next, you'll need to ensure that goals, rewards, and performance measurements also align with your purpose. It's pointless to know your purpose and understand your roles and responsibilities toward achieving it, if you're measured or held accountable entirely to different standards. 

3. What should culture look like on your team?

If purpose, responsibilities, roles, and measurements are cleaned up, but you still don't have a team that cooperates toward their common goals, you may have a culture problem

Culture starts with leadership but must carry across the whole group. First, evaluate whether communication within your team is effective. The leader must work to communicate 'the why' behind what happens in the workplace. Conversations held between two or a few people behind closed doors should never conflict with what the whole group believes. A level of transparency is necessary among all team members to stay aligned, and to build trust. In today's world, where a lack of trust is a growing problem, openness, and truth-telling goes a long way to build confidence in interpersonal dynamics. A lack of trust will permeate every interaction on your team and harm relationships. 

Remember that to make mistakes is not only human but how we learn. When it comes to truth-telling, one crucial step is admitting fallibility. It wouldn't take much introspection to ask yourself if you have strong trust in the "know-it-all, does everything right" person on your team. Likely, you have felt that such a person is arrogant, lacks humility, and empathy. If team members don't think that it's okay to make mistakes, they will not share information. Instead, they’ll fearfully scramble to cover their tracks without addressing the problems they encounter on a team level. This mindset can lead to a failure to collaborate, create a culture where less is shared, and prevent the team from developing relationships where they look after one another -- where they build trust.

Here, again, the leader's role is essential. If leaders act like they only do the right things and never make mistakes, team members won't feel comfortable to take open risks where they admit their failures, where everyone learns and improves together, and where stronger connections get built. Smart risk-taking will allow for growth, opportunities, and innovation, but most importantly, can be the best team building exercise. 

4. How can your team members productively manage stress?

After addressing the culture and work-related communication on your team, you'll want to ensure that stress levels are managed, not ignored. You may have a certain deadline or must-do tasks in your team, but that doesn't mean you can't do anything to prevent people from burning out and bringing the less productive versions of themselves to the workplace.

One of the more significant causes of stress at work, and in life, is interpersonal dynamics. Make sure that the positive culture in which people communicate transparently expands beyond work itself - people aren't robots, they're human! While they may have a shared purpose, team, and employer, remember that people are diverse. Not just in the visible ways related to demographics but on a behavioral and cognitive level too. It's essential to focus on team building activities that bring out the real inner personality of each person. Promoting open conversation about your team member’s differences allows everyone to understand the strengths and preferences of their co-workers and work more effectively with them. Team building on a personality level helps ensure that conflicts are managed, not misunderstood, that talents are used appropriately and motivate individuals, and that people don't feel judged unfairly or under pressure for not being the same as someone else. When it comes to personality dynamics, the best action is being able to talk about them in a way that disarms the conversation. The doer isn't better than the thinker, and the communicator isn't better than the planner. They all add a different value for their team, even if, at times, they feel oppositional.

Hopefully, this discussion helps generate a few ideas for you to get help to remove toxicity from your team, and even help your team succeed in a positive environment. Here at Birkman, we're just as passionate about individuals as we are about teams and your organizational success. The Birkman Method is a strengths-based assessment that helps uncover personality in ways that help individuals increase their emotional intelligence and develop talent. Our personality assessment tools help you understand where people might provide more value, how they'll feel energized and motivated, and where and why behavior turns unproductive. Based on this platform, HR professionals, leaders, and consultants can run impactful team building sessions that reset toxic teams to move forward in a positive direction. For the needs of the modern workplace, we've also launched a High-Performing Teams workshop solution that incorporates, but doesn't focus exclusively on, personality data to establish a solid foundation, create social awareness, and implement action that increases organizational performance.