One employee’s toxic behavior can affect the performance of an entire team.  Recent research on team effectiveness has found that the single most important factor influencing high performing teams and the lowest performing teams is the quality of colleague relationships. If relationships on the team are strong, supportive and collaborative, you will more likely have high performing teams.  If one or more people on the team is behaving in toxic ways, you will more likely have a lower performing team.

And if you are the one responsible for managing one or more of these employees who are behaving badly, it can be incredibly frustrating.

Let’s back up a minute and define what we mean by toxic.  Here are some telltale behaviors:

They create drama, gossiping, starting rumors or back stabbing team members.

They hoard information, preventing other team members from executing.

They blame others when problems emerge, often exploding in temper tantrums.

They put their personal goals ahead of the team goals.

They take credit for work that others have done.

If you are managing an employee who is frequently displaying these types of behaviors you MUST do this thing first – Acknowledge that this is happening.

The most frequent mistake that we see managers make is that they ignore toxic behavior and assume that it is a temporary situation that will go away.  The opposite is true.  What actually happens is that the team member’s toxic behavior infects others and eventually tears apart the cohesion of the entire team.

Once you acknowledge that this is happening, the second step is to have an honest conversation about what behavior is expected on the team, what behavior will not be tolerated and what the consequences will be if it continues.  Often times, we are called in to help facilitate this conversation and then to work with the employees individually or in small groups.  More often than not, the badly behaving team member is critical to the functioning of the team, and cannot be easily replaced or fired.  We work with these individuals so that they can learn to turn their behavior around and function in ways that benefits the whole team.

If you are looking to do a deeper dive into the research on toxic behavior and teams, check out

The Loyalist Team: How Trust, Candor, and Authenticity Create Great Organizations by Audrey Epstein, Linda Adams, and Rebecca Teasdale.


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