Solution Saturday: I Work with a Very Negative Team
I hope you’re doing well. I look forward to reading your posts everyday.
I am currently working with a team that is very negative. As their team leader I should be shifting their mindset, but after a few months I don’t feel like I’ve made an impact, in fact I find myself hiding from my team because I don’t want to inherit their attitudes.
Do you have any solutions or books you’d recommend I read?
Pulled into the dark
You’re kind to ask how I’m doing. I’m doing very well. I’m deeply thankful for readers like you.
Leaders monitor environments:
Congratulations for being aware of your environment. Leaders pay attention to the way people feel while they work together. You can’t control feelings. You can influence them.
David Foster Wallace writes, “There are these two young fish swimming along and they happen to meet an older fish swimming the other way, who nods at them and says “Morning, boys. How’s the water?” And the two young fish swim on for a bit, and then eventually one of them looks over at the other and goes “What the hell is water?
Leaders create environments:
It’s far too easy to notice what’s wrong than it is to do something about it. Taking responsibility for the way it feels to work together seems like trying to feel the water we swim in.
Paint a picture of what you want, after noticing what you don’t want. Move from generalities to specific behaviors.
- How do people treat each other in positive environments?
- What do people say to each other in positive environments?
- What behaviors will you honor?
Focus on simple behaviors. We smile and stand when team members enter our office, for example.
Leaders include true believers:
Include true believers, after doing you’re own work.
Collaborate with two or three people who believe a positive work environment is worth creating. Discuss your observations and initial thoughts. Generate a list of behaviors together.
Commit to practice these behaviors regardless of what others do. Become accountable to each other. Ask each other accountability questions at the end of the day. Pat each other on the back when you fulfill your commitments to each other.
Worry more about behaviors than quick results.
10 tips for building positive team environments:
- Get out of your office.
- Deliver daily, face-to-face, affirmations to team members. Be specific. Describe the behavior you’re honoring. Say, “Thank you.”
- Chart progress. At the end of the day, give your team a positivity score. During your reflections, identify behaviors that hinder and behaviors that propel you toward your goal.
- Adapt your approach. Cling to behaviors that work best. Modify others.
- Enlist others to join, after a month or so. Work with believers. Don’t worry about unbelievers.
- Don’t establish a public program until you have a majority of team members on board.
- Publicly honor people who practice behaviors that build the environment you’re working to build.
- Marginalize, reassign, or remove energy vampires.
- Read, “The Energy Bus: 10 Rules to Fuel Your Life, Work, and Team with Positive Energy,” by Jon Gordon.
- Connect with someone outside your team for encouragement, support, and suggestions.
The way we treat each other, while we work, is the most important thing about us.
It takes focused work to build and maintain positive work environments.
You have my best,
How might leaders build positive teams?
Dan, I really appreciate your input on this reader’s challenge. Bravo for the suggestions. It is critical that s/he manage her/his energy to reflect the ideal future state not the sinkhole current one. And yet this is hard, hard work. I’d suggest two additions. (1) meet with staff, whenever possible, in different spaces than they are used to; a shift in physical space can signal a shift is psychological space. (2) reinforce only the behaviours yours want to repeat and withdraw reinforcement of the non-behaviours; p.s. this is easier said than done so be very clear…even by cuing someone on their negative behaviour (I.e. “John, your derogatory comment about senior leadership is something I cannot support”) may inadvertently reinforce it. In other words, don’t interact with behaviours that are the antithesis of what you are looking to create. This can be very, very hard. Leaders often think, “but what he’s saying is destructive and wrong; I have to tell him to stop”. But if it’s ingrained behaviour, it’s a habit. And habits don’t always ‘make sense’. Only interact with John when he exhibits the appropriate behaviours. Period. He might say 14 ridiculous, negative, jaded and inflammatory things in your next meeting and only 1 positive one. Focus on only reinforcing the positive one. Over and over. Tell him publicly; repeat it privately. And remove any interaction with him when he’s off-base. No eye-rolling, no sighs, no “cut that out”. Nothing. Good luck, reader!
Dan. Doesn’t public praise isolate believers and thereby minimize their influence on the “fence sitters?”
I’ve read the Energy Bus and hang one poster from the corresponding website each week.
I work in a tough Healthcare clinic where morale is at aN all time low.
But I’m keeping The Energy Bus cruising through the Hallways.
I have a lot of sympathy with the original questioner. The difficulty I’ve found is that as you try to drive a team like this forward, you DO NOT appear in their eyes to be a clear eyed leader. You appear to be an idiot who cannot grasp reality. Be careful, as you risk your own health trying to deliver the team’s mission on your own.
If it is true that ‘the faults we see in others are our own faults’ then I think the questioner may simply be seeing his or her own negativity in others. As a leader I think the solution is therefore to begin with changing himself or herseff. Be the change.. I think true leadership inspires (‘put the spirit inside’) others with enthusiasm (‘en’ – meaning ‘inside’ and ‘theo’ meaning ‘God’), but I could be wrong.
The team of negative members is definitely a challenge! Some techniques you could try is divide and conquer perhaps swaying one member at a time, perhaps taking each on a side to convey your aspirations.
Perhaps finding a common point you all agree on and build with that positive point, if that exists?
Options are important if you or they can create them. Replace all the members with new ones if that is possible.
Really depends on how corporate see’s the mission.
If your group is not changing perhaps a mission statement starting from ground zero is in order.
Surely a solution is out there! Best of luck!
I encountered this issue a number of times during my career. Beyond the excellent suggestions you have made Dan, one thing I always made a point of was connecting the work of the team to the success of the business. Too often I saw the narcissism of the negative team members impacting the work of the productive team members. Unfortunately, my consulting over the last several years, before retiring, was fraught with an increasing incidence of narcissism. For me, dealing with narcissistic employees and leaders is going to be the biggest challenge facing business community.