Solution Saturday: I Work with a Very Negative Team

Hi Dan,

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


Dear Pulled,

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.

  1. How do people treat each other in positive environments?
  2. What do people say to each other in positive environments?
  3. 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:

  1. Get out of your office.
  2. Deliver daily, face-to-face, affirmations to team members. Be specific. Describe the behavior you’re honoring. Say, “Thank you.”
  3. 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.
  4. Adapt your approach. Cling to behaviors that work best. Modify others.
  5. Enlist others to join, after a month or so. Work with believers. Don’t worry about unbelievers.
  6. Don’t establish a public program until you have a majority of team members on board.
  7. Publicly honor people who practice behaviors that build the environment you’re working to build.
  8. Marginalize, reassign, or remove energy vampires.
  9. Read, “The Energy Bus: 10 Rules to Fuel Your Life, Work, and Team with Positive Energy,” by Jon Gordon.
  10. 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?