How To Be a Terrible Team Member

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Teamwork is defined as the combined actions of a group of people, especially when they are effective and efficient. Companies thriving in today’s economy all share one thing in common: excellent employees. The people within a company comprise its biggest and most valuable asset. Teamwork has become a crucial part of today’s business environment, but the process of individuals working collaboratively as a group towards a shared goal doesn’t just happen. Individuals bring a myriad of personal traits to the effort, and while some are helpful, some are not. The saying, “One bad apple can spoil the whole bunch,” is never truer than with teams. One team member consistently behaving badly can start a domino effect among the others that ultimately renders the whole team ineffective. Ironically, total harmony is not necessarily a defining trait of the most effective teams, as creative conflict about the work, when well managed and focused, has a decidedly positive effect on team efforts and outcomes. The trick is learning how to identify which traits and behaviors contribute to creative thinking, problem-solving, learning, and growth and which are destructive to those things. We’ve identified nine damaging work styles that are barriers to effective teamwork and thus, can impact your bottom line. How many of these do you recognize in your workplace?   Presenting: How To Be a Terrible Team Member The Downer (aka The Buzzkill) This team member finds the negative in every situation and announces it to anyone who will listen. Negative thinking is a burden on work mates and brings down a team’s energy. One of the aspects of The Downer’s approach is that it emphasizes shortcomings in the contributions of others and causes tension in relationships. This leads to a climate of fear and mistrust. Even the simplest of requests or changes become suspect in such an atmosphere. Often the fear and mistrust seeps into relationships between staff and management, as well. Team members disengage, and the team loses the benefit of the insights and strategic thought of those employees holding back. Creative ideas and solutions to problems are not offered by those who are disengaged, and the whole team suffers. Negativity not only has mental effects on co-workers but manifest physically, too. Stress-related illness causes absenteeism to rise, and those who work in a negative environment are less effective when present because they tend to experience more depression. The Gossip (aka The Megaphone) This team member spreads private information, or misinformation, everywhere. This behavior creates an atmosphere of mistrust among team members with whom the confidences, or falsehoods, are shared. Communication is hindered when trust is lacking. Teammates with worries about back-stabbing create distance around themselves as a safety measure. Everyone becomes mired in the negative mind set and formerly good workers become part of the problem rather than part of the solution. The Gossip can create antagonism between otherwise compatible co-workers. The resulting stress is a motivation killer, and productivity suffers when individuals stop learning and developing their skills. In some cases cliques form as a defensive act, and those left on the outside looking in can feel intimidated by the members. This can be taken to an extreme and result in bullying of non-members. Long-term exposure to a toxic environment like this can lead to greater risk of developing heart disease and other health-related problems. The Change Allergic (aka The Change-A-Phobe) This team member can’t or won’t stop talking about how things used to be or how things used to be done at a previous place of employment. The Change Allergic often directly, or indirectly, shoots down new ideas introduced by other team members with this behavior. Meeting participation goes down when someone chronically shoots down new ideas, and group brainstorming sessions suffer in this environment. Teams are impaired from a loss of creativity when input is stifled as people hear their ideas constantly being dismissed. Tension goes up among team members when they are put on the defensive regularly for their contributions. Pushing against the status quo can feel like swimming upstream, emotionally, and a kind of mental fatigue eventually sets in. The team’s productivity drops off and with it any hope for efficiency gains, new products, or services from the team. No company can move forward when their employees shut down and the members aren’t able to perform to the best of their abilities. Oftentimes turnover goes up with the best and brightest team members looking to competitors as a better place to advance. The Lone Wolf (aka The Office Martyr) This team member brags about how much time they put in and seems to be on a never-ending self-promotion tour. This toxic co-worker can be heard bragging about missing important family events to put in time on a project. They make sure everyone sees the time stamp on the e-mails they send out at 2:00 a.m. They are first to arrive and last to leave the office each day. This person appears to be consumed by their work, but they often have only a strong commitment to themselves and a much lower commitment to the team and the organization. The result is the loss of this person’s contribution because this behavior tends to result in isolation from the rest of the team. This kind of “super hero” behavior exerts the same serious compromise on group effectiveness as someone who loafs on the job. The difference here is an air of superiority with an often not-too-subtle low opinion for the contributions of teammates. A team’s accomplishments are rarely the work of just one person, but The Lone Wolf needs to be seen as doing it all. Not surprisingly this infuriates co-workers and erodes any team building efforts. The Socially Inept (aka The Creeper) This team member is inappropriate and nosy. They often disclose their personal problems, illnesses, love life, or ask about yours, no matter how others push back. They cross personal boundaries without any sense of how it makes others feel, and this makes working together as a team difficult. In fact co-workers will go far out of their way to avoid having to be around this person and attendance at important meetings can drop off. Social etiquette is critical to smooth teamwork, and The Socially Inept constantly alienate themselves from co-workers with their unsuitable behavior. The group’s reaction to the person’s tastelessness is often avoidance, which can become a primary goal in itself and causes procrastination on project work. The Creeper may not intend to cause strife within the team, but trampling on social norms with co-workers creates a great deal of stress, nonetheless. Group collaboration requires common beliefs and goals, and this is completely at odds with avoiding someone who makes everyone uncomfortable. The Prima Donna (aka The Disengaged) These team members are completely unconcerned with anyone and anything outside of themselves. Often they expect special treatment and pampering that rubs their teammates the wrong way. This person exhibits a sense of entitlement that creates resentment with co-workers and deals a serious blow to team morale. The Prima Donna is often disengaged from the real work to be done and holds up the progress of the rest of the team. This employee can be short-tempered with co-workers if not getting special recognition, which undermines team progress. This detached employee may feel like a dead weight to co-workers, and the whole team can become bogged down in resentment. Poor morale develops among employees who have to do extra work as a result. Dealing with this high maintenance personality is tiring, and productivity suffers. The Knowledge Hog (aka The Bottleneck) The Knowledge Hog looks to amass and retain power in an indirect way by hoarding information others need to be effective on the job. This behavior creates bottlenecks and weakens the team effort. A basic requirement of teamwork is that members support each other. The Bottleneck co-worker counteracts this by looking for ways to increase their importance at the expense of others and limiting the participation of their teammates. They withhold information which hinders collaboration and productivity on a daily basis. Everyone else’s quality and quantity of work suffers. Further, the behavior sabotages the success of others, and the team is driven apart by resentment. Turnover can result as teammates leave out of boredom and lack of opportunity for achievement. The Excuse Maker (aka It’s-Not-My-Fault) This team member gives justifications and alibis for not getting the assigned work done. It’s-Not-My-Fault blames clients, technology, and even other team members for their own regularly poor performance. The mind-set is unproductive for the individual, and the whole team pays for missed deadlines with loss of good reputation. The teammates also experience inconvenience when they must work overtime to help The Excuse Maker finish assignments. This employee’s behavior becomes predictable, and an atmosphere of resentment develops. Team members look to each other for solutions, not excuses as from this disengaged teammate. The Excuse Maker’s behavior frustrates other team members and erodes morale. Low morale can be a source for increased customer complaints. In fact, the dependable support and assistance of team members is usually a requirement for a consistent and positive customer experience. The Tornado (aka The Pigeon) This is often a manager, supervisor, or someone else in a position of authority over the team. This person points out problems and tears down ideas but doesn’t contribute anything towards solutions. This behavior results in confusion for the team members and contributes to false starts on projects. This dysfunctional boss saps employee morale and motivation. Worse than that, it leaves everyone on the team feeling anxious and stressed. The Tornado’s behavior also subtly conveys a message to the team that regardless of their experience and competency their work is never going to be good enough. The dissatisfaction that results can manifest in a loss of confidence among teammates and an inability to follow through on complex tasks. The chaos that results from The Pigeon’s swooping in at the last minute can cause good team members to look elsewhere for employment. A team’s productivity suffers until a new employee can be hired, trained, and functions well on the job. Poor team dynamics as a result of those behaviors cost money—both in the immediate term and the long-term scope. Organizations lose hundreds and thousands of dollars each year when individual behaviors have a negative impact on team efforts. The good news is that these behaviors are easily identified. Becoming aware of them is the first critical step.


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