The Complete List of Toxic Behaviors that Poison Teams
Toxic behaviors connected to communication:
- Assume silence is agreement.
- Overstate teammate’s opinions and question their motives.
- Sweep difficult topics under the carpet.
- Speak for others. Begin sentences with “you” – you always and you never.
- Polish terminology until the message is lost, obscure, and acceptable to everyone on the planet.
Toxic behaviors connected to lack of humility and disrespect:
- Tolerate drifters.
- Allow power-members to drone on and on.
- Share your feelings without regard for others.
- Make decisions in private meetings, before team meetings begin.
- Fight for everything you want.
- Don’t adapt, as a matter of principle.
- Start over when late-comers arrive.
- Interrupt each other.
- Use sarcasm to put people in their place.
- Refuse to admit you’re wrong and pretend you know more than you know.
Toxic behaviors connected to diversity and innovation:
- Don’t mix genders.
- Marginalize new members who don’t know that you’ve always done it that way.
- Invite the same people to the table, year after year.
- Explain why new ideas won’t work as soon as they are introduced.
Toxic behaviors connected to planning and execution:
- Get lost in the weeds.
- Don’t identify project-champions.
- Don’t talk about purpose and goals.
- Assume things won’t work and remind everyone when they didn’t.
- Solve every problem and address every imaginable contingency before you try something.
Toxic behaviors connected to meeting agendas:
- Don’t state the purpose for the meeting.
- Write long agendas.
- Deal with a few “quick” items before you address important topics. Don’t leave enough time for the big stuff.
- Discuss, but don’t decide.
Four top tips for making teams work:
- Identify the reason for the team’s existence.
- Connect everything you do to the reason for the team’s existence.
- Assign champions and establish deadlines for every project or initiative.
- Monitor energy. When you feel energy going up or down, ask, “What just happened?”
What toxic behaviors poison teams?
How might leaders do things that make teams work?
“Overstate team members’ opinions” – guilty …
Thanks Emily. Hats off to you for your transparency! 🙂
Interesting list what do you exactly mean by project champions and what is the difference compared to project manager?
Thanks Alex. Great question. Leadership teams don’t always manage projects, directly, but someone on the team should take ownership. A project champion owns the project, even if they don’t actually execute the project. I’ve seen leadership teams delegate a task or project and not follow up with it. Thanks for the opportunity to add clarity.
Good lists Dan.
I would add…
1) Ensure team members reflect sufficient diversity of experience/ skill/ perspective etc and articulate the reason why each member has been selected
2) Establish rules of engagement with the team at the beginning, as a framework for ensuring am open, respectful, collaborative environment and address breaches as and when they happen
2) Develop a shared definition/ understanding of success, at the beginning of the project/ initiative
3) Develop a plan to get from ‘here’ to ‘there’
4) Monitor the plan at pre-determined internals along the way and course correct, as necessary
5) Celebrate successes along the way
Great topic and list(s) and good additions from Lori. I am sending this on to teams I work with and hope it generates some good discussion.
Thanks Bill. Generating conversation is useful. Best wishes.
Were a team here at Leadershipfreak!
I learn daily from Dan’s wisdom and from the thoughtful comments Dan’s posts invariably generate! Please share further insights that emerge from your teams discussions.
Question as I am interested in hearing your feedback. Why is there such a long list? What has caused this list to grow over the years? What is causing these toxic levels ?
Have a wonderful week! Vanessa
Sent from Vanessa’s iPhone
Thanks Vanessa. This list is long because leadership is challenging and relationships are challenging. Why do you think the list is long?
The best part of this post for me is the quote within the picture and could probably can stand simply on its own. Evaluations of people, work product and progress should be based on the goals and objectives – not peripheral observations and criteria not relative to the mission that are often made when supervisors try to avoid confrontation and accountability. Good quote, Dan. Thanks!
Thanks SGT. The idea of evaluating based on purpose suggests that teams should know and align with the reason for their existence. I think some teams have forgotten why they were formed. If you don’t have a purpose, you can’t succeed, regardless of what you do.
Understanding why you are doing the work you are doing and staying focused is tied directly to the Four Top Tips.
Thanks Eddie. That’s a helpful observation.
Many senior leaders will have no agenda for big all-hands meetings, sending the meta-message “of course you are going to show up, pay attention, and care. I’m more important than you and therefore what I will have to say is important.”
Thanks James. It’s helpful to connect respect for others with the idea of an agenda. I can see what you’re saying. When I’m full of myself, I don’t think about others.
So, improvement in team functions occurs when these, any of these, are removed or molidified or have electrons removed. Spinning this into a team discussion framework might generate some really good discussions amongst the players. Detoxify.
And, I bet a bit of discussion would triple the numbers of things on the list, as players project their beliefs and do that analysis and synergy thing that teams often do (the working members, at least).
Spin this up into a self-rating / rating of others checklist. Ya think?
(Isn’t the spelling of this supposed to be “Compleat” ? (grin). )
Thanks Dr. Scott. Love the term detoxify and the idea of ranking toxic behaviors in order of priority is powerful. Just think if a team listed the top three most toxic behaviors and committed to avoid them and call them out when they see them…. powerful
Wow, Dan, what a compendium of toxic leadership behaviors you’ve compiled to give us to go along with our Tuesday Morning Blues…oops, Tuesday Morning Do’s.
Yet I have another: The constant leadership focus on “results” rather than “process.” I ardently believe that outcome will take care of itself if our process is right. However, if a leader is constantly hammering results down the throats of staff members, process is thwarted, performance is frustrated, productivity is impeded, and inevitably results fail.
This human predilection to be strictly results-oriented is toxic to peak performance and results. And when we tend to obsess on outcomes and fail to realize that if we put the same energy into process, everyone and everything is unfulfilled. When we stay more process-oriented and focus on mastering the controllable variables, we inevitably accomplish greater results.
We must put the spotlight on “process.” What are the key variables within our control that drive our success? How do we shift our attention away from the things we can’t change and focus ourselves on the things we can?
Thanks Books. Nothing pernicious about your comment. It’s filled with pizzazz. Don’t let the drive for results distract from the process. “What are the key variables within our control that drive our success?” Pow! So much energy is wasted fretting over things we can’t control.
Spotlighting the process is the paramount path to profound success.
Actually, Brooks’ comment sounds like sarcasm. Having a good process is better than a bad one, but is a good process and no success better than success regardless of how good or bad the process is? In the end, is team of firemen judged by how quick they put the fire out or by the process they used?
Apt terminology used . Apart from the list of things stated , arrogance and complete lack of concern for others feelings also counts as toxic behavior. Such people not only ruin the confidence of co workers but also destroy the very fabric of team work and organisational culture.
Leadership training, strategic analyzes, thick policy documents and endless statistics. To say nothing of esoteric Tsjakka trainings, team building sessions in a cabin in the woods and cross-media image campaigns. Since the invention of management, a century ago, bring managers and consultants all the stops to influence the performance of organizations. But what are all these inventions are really worth comes from improper communication? Jos Verveen, a Dutch expert bedijf – an entrepreneur – wrote a nice book about that here in the Netherlands became a bestseller “Bullshit Management”. I think not translated. So who can read Dutch: http://www.managementboek.nl. As a sociologist, I had learned a lot from this book because it describes from the inside and not academic from above.
A nice list – especially with the additions of other readers.
I shared this post with the ITS team here at Ithaca College. I received this reply from our CIO, Keith W “Mac” McIntosh and thought it was worth sharing – “Nice post…it would be nice to develop a list which is the antithesis of this list (except the four top tips) that demonstrated the behaviors we want to see amongst ITS. This could be used as our guidepost for all future interactions.” I will follow-up with this in our group, but it might also be a good future post.
Can you describe what you mean by “Tolerate drifters” in a little more detail? Thanks!
Thanks MH. When teams allow people who don’t make positive contribution to sit at the table, they tolerate drifters. Tolerating drifters shows disrespect to those who are working hard to make contributions. When a member of the team leaves the meeting without something to do, they shouldn’t have attended the meeting in the first place.
I found the following list in 1980’s… strikingly similar thoughts!
How to Kill Ideas
Don’t be ridiculous.
We tried that before.
It costs too much.
It can’t be done.
That’s beyond our responsibility.
It’s too radical a change.
We don’t have the time.
That will make our other equipment obsolete.
We’re too small for it.
That’s not our problem.
We’ve never done it before.
Why change it? It’s still working OK.
You’re two years ahead of You’re time.
We’re not ready for it.
It isn’t in the budget.
Can’t teach an old dog new tricks.
Let’s form a committee.
Too hard to sell.
Top management would never go for it.
We’ll be the laughing stock.
Let’s shelve it for the time-being.
We did alright without it.
Has anyone else ever tried it?
It won’t work in our industry.
Tri-Way Printers and Mailers [~1980’s]
Dan, you may be familiar with the work of Chris Argyris, in particular organizational defensive routines. There are four steps, as follows: (1) Craft messages that contain inconsistencies. (2) Act as if the messages are not inconsistent. (3) Make the ambiguity and inconsistency in the message undiscussable. (4) Make the undiscussability of the undiscussable also undiscussable. Toxic rating?
Great article, Dan! This is a great list to use to facilitate a team critique among team members, allowing the team members to rate themselves against each item, and share specific examples of when they have triumphed over it (or become mired in it). The discussion itself is extremely powerful in inspiring change, not to mention awareness. (I would add the need for Role Clarification to the list, along with the power of having fun!) Awesome read! Thanks!
Wow! Is there a limit to how many of these I can say that I have done, or how many I have seen done? What a great list. We have a management team off-site coming up on a couple of weeks. I have to find a way to integrate this into the discussions. Thanks Dan!!
High value targeted info right there. As a leader of a sales team of ten, I could connect all things shared here.
This is great. I think every manager is probably guilty of a couple on occasion. Seeing the list is something that will certainly help me be aware as I feel myself slipping. I might add a couple more like “rather do it myself” or “not making one person responsible.”
Great list. I would flip each statement to its positive. For instance, “Allow others to finish their thought before speaking,” vs. “Don’t interrupt others.”
I believe focusing on what you are trying to accomplish is more powerful than trying to avoid what you don’t want. Because, inevitably, when you focus on avoiding something, you are simply attracting that very thing into your experience.
Thank you again!
Thank you Dan. Very insightful as always. I like how it’s broken down by toxic behaviors in different contexts. Tom Demarco referred to these toxic behaviors as “teamicide” in his book Peopleware. I wrote a very short post on it at https://medium.com/@selleithy/teamicide-6034137fd2ba