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Turning Toxic Team Members from Poison to Positive

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The bully. The buck passer. The trash talker. The divider. The rule flouter. The backstabber. The credit taker. The morale crusher. Chances are we’ve experienced one of these personas or multiples of these in one person in the workplace. Toxic co-workers. They’re not just an annoyance at the office – they have a reverberating destructive impact on the organization. Multiple studies have tracked the employee toxicity’s effect on engagement, productivity, and even an organization’s bottom line. It turns out that one bad apple can not only spoil the bunch; it can bring down the entire tree. But what if the toxic employee is one of the top performers? This should not give managers a pass on fixing the team dynamic. On some level, the troublemaker may be using their superstar status as their carte blanche for bad behavior. Yet when the manager leaves the situation unaddressed, the toxic behavior begins to diminish the values for which most companies state they stand for – collaboration and mutual respect, for starters. And the message delivered is that there are two sets of rules and that the company rewards disruptive behavior when work performance is excellent. So here are some steps that managers can take when dealing with bad actors on the team:

Zero Tolerance Policy

Establish and communicate behavior expectations for all team members, clearly and regularly. Detail what actions, attitudes, and activities will not be tolerated. Document both good and bad behavior of your team members, so that you have concrete examples at your fingertips when addressing any issues.

Attention Please

If you witness lousy behavior or it is brought to your attention, address the situation immediately. Putting a stop to it as soon as possible reinforces and lends credibility to the zero-tolerance policy. Keep the conversation about the disruptive behavior and how it impacts the team and workplace. Remind them that this is contrary to the team culture and likely the company’s as well. Indicate what the consequences will be if the behavior continues. Keep a record of the incident and the resulting conversation for future review or repeated episodes.

Coach It Away

For toxic team members who are top performers, securing professional development and training courses to improve interpersonal skills may be worth the company expense. Preventive coaching around etiquette, civility, sensitivity, team building, collaboration, and more can increase self-awareness and provide skills lacking in an otherwise superstar employee.

Redefine Performance Success

Make attitude and behavior a vital component of the annual review process and resulting rewards. There’s no more explicit message to someone who is success-oriented than that behavioral mastery is part and parcel to overall job performance.

What’s at Stake

The responsibility for the team well-being lands squarely on the leader’s shoulders. As a manager, you have a broader duty not only to the overall performance of your team but how that ladders up to the performance of the company. Managers can’t risk team productivity or talent attrition because of a single individual. At some point, if there’s no improvement, the decision will have to be made about cutting losses. The final question becomes “Is what this person delivers in terms of performance worth all the intervention required and trauma sustained on the remaining team?”  If you’ve documented, addressed it, coached it to no avail, decisive action may mean showing the rock star the exit door.

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