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5 Trademarks of a Toxic Team and How to Overcome Them

5 Trademarks of a Toxic Team and How to Overcome Them

Strong teams are productive, innovative, satisfied, and collaborative. Strong teams lead to low turnover and high results, making them a valuable asset in becoming a cost-efficient company. Toxic teams, however, are expensive and unproductive. They damage corporate culture, making it harder to attract great new hires, and they aren’t invested in the company’s success. Often, they lead to high turnover, biting into your bottom line. Is your team toxic? Here are five common signs of a toxic team and how you can turn things around.

  1. Poor Communication.


Employees need to know what is expected of them and how their work is and will be measured. “Without clear definitions of success, productivity is limited” says Jeff Boss, founding partner of Tier One Leadership Solutions. “You can’t win if you don’t know where the finishing line is or who is responsible for getting there.”

Further, clear and consistent communication is extremely important for employee satisfaction and retention. Studies have shown that companies with excellent communication are even able to retain surviving employees after a layoff. Clear communication builds trust and makes employees feel valued. They are thus more likely to feel invested in your company, even through difficult times.

To improve communication, communicate regularly and develop a culture that encourages asking questions and voicing opinions, even and especially if they go against the common thought. Trust your employees to be capable of understanding the big picture of what your team and your company are doing, as well as to be loyal enough not to bolt at the first piece of bad news. Those who do probably aren’t the employees you really want on your team, anyway.

  1. Neglect of values.

Too many leaders make the same mistake. They come up with a great set of values upon creation of a team or assumption of leadership, but, with the possible exceptions of onboarding presentations and team building excursions, never return to those values.

If you’re going to bother to have team values (and you should) they should inform your team’s actions on a daily basis. According to Tim Kuppler, co-founder of Culture University, choices should be made to continually reinforce those values in everything from hiring to management to communication.

Going back to communication, commitment to values helps employees understand what they are expected to do, as well as leaders make certain decisions. “Along with clear goals, a shared vision of the larger purpose behind those goals provides structure and direction and a context within which members can make decisions” says Christine M. Riordan, Dean of the University of Denver’s Daniels College of Business. Staying true to the fundamental company values that employees learned during onboarding reinforces what attracted them to work for you in the first place.  

  1. Inconsistency About Policies.

You can communicate all you want, but it won’t be worth much if what you’re saying doesn’t match what you’re doing. “When a company’s policies and procedures are not followed, chaos, inconsistency and poor quality follow” says Paul White, president of Appreciation at Work.

To counter this, policies need to be both clearly articulated to all employees and enforced consistently. Employees must know that they will be held accountable for transgressions against company and team policies.

To avoid creating toxic resentment within your team, leaders must not be exempt from fastidious adherence to these policies. “Culture is a normative inheritance, much like child rearing” says Matt Ehrlichman, co-founder and CEO of Porch. If you want your employees to abide by certain rules, leaders must do so, as well.

  1. Inflexible Leaders.

Even a hard-working, disciplined, and intelligent leader with great values can develop a toxic team if rigidity defines his/her management style. “A rule-driven, command-and-control culture is a toxic culture that will drive talented people away” says Liz Ryan, founder and CEO of Human Workplace.

You are careful and calculated in making your hiring decisions. Assuming you have done your due diligence and hired the right people, the worst thing you can do is fail to trust them. Instead of treating your employees as incapable delinquents and forcing them to work in tightly defined way under close supervision, empower them to work in the way that they work best.

Whether that means structuring their daily tasks in such a way as to optimize productivity, working remotely at times in order to hyperfocus away from the distractions of a shared office space, or taking more ownership of the direction of projects, empowered employees are satisfied employees who want to prove themselves worthy of your trust and thereby retain their freedoms.

  1. There Are No Deviants.

Intuitively, it seems like a team with no dissenters, where all share common opinions, would work cohesively and be preferable over a team with more in-group disagreements. While homogenous teams might enjoy collaborating, they are not the most innovative or productive teams. “Every team needs a deviant, someone who can help the team by challenging the tendency to want too much homogeneity, which can stifle creativity and learning” says J. Richard Hackman, Professor of Social and Organizational Psychology at Harvard University. “Deviants are the ones who stand back and say, ‘Well, wait a minute, why are we even doing this at all? What if we looked at the thing backwards or turned it inside out?’”

Agreement is pleasant, but it isn’t conducive to the sort of intellectual debate that breeds innovation. Contrarians aren’t what your team needs, but informational diversity is hugely beneficial. Encourage employees to speak up if they disagree and create a safe environment in which they can do so. Employees should know that disagreeing will not put their continued employment at risk. You may also want to consider adding some diversity to your team by either reassigning teams across the department or hiring candidates with a different profile than current employees.

There is no formula for building a dream team, but there are ways to recognize if yours falls short. Try to improve your team first, but don’t be afraid to let go of bad hires, if necessary, to bring up your team’s morale and productivity.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR | Danai Kadzere

Danai is a Content Marketer at Happie. Before Happie, she worked as a freelance writer, ghostwriter, and children's book author, after graduating from Harvard University with a BS in Human Evolutionary Biology. If she's not working, she's probably reading, baking, or getting lost.

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