Five types of behaviors standing in the way of a high performing team

Dimple Rao
I grew up in consulting and as a manager, felt very comfortable leading high performing teams. For the most part, performance issues were dealt with quickly and efficiently and team members that were left were ones that played a highly essential role in moving our work forward.

Outside of the consulting world, it has taken some time to build my management muscles.

When I join a team, I have come to expect performance issues that have been left unaddressed and festered to the point of debilitating an entire team.  At the same time, I know it is incredibly hard for an employee who has worked several years on the team and has never been told there is a problem, to suddenly find themselves getting tough feedback.

Some issues have been easy for me to deal with, others, I had to learn the hard way.  In this post, I'm going to talk through some behaviors and employee types that can become toxic to the team culture if left unchecked.  For each of these, I have also outlined some tips that have worked for me.

1. The 'competent asshole' behavior:
We all know someone like this.  They love being right, they love making others feel inadequate, they love tooting their own horn at the expense of others.  They love taking credit for successes but are quick to assign blame for failures.  They have no qualms about public shaming and look for such opportunities to showcase just how smart they are.  This behavior is often times overlooked because their work is good.  So you will find managers who look the other way because well, "we really don't want to lose the talent." The end result is two-fold: For one, there will be team members who will stop speaking their mind or taking ownership for fear of public humiliation. On the other hand, because you are not addressing this behavior, other team members can interpret this as an endorsement for asshole behavior and you could easily find yourself surrounded by folks who simply do not treat each other with respect.

How to deal: Start with feedback.  The premise here is, they perhaps don't know they are perceived as jerks.  Feedback needs to be immediate - as close as possible to the asshole behavior exhibition.  If feedback is ineffective, start building repercussions.  It could be the next great project that is assigned to someone else, the promotion which is held back.  It can be something small or something big depending on the size of the problem but chances are, if there are no blatant repercussions, this behavior will not stop.  At which point, you might need to decide if this person does have a spot on your team in the future.

2. The 'I don't care about improving myself' trait:
I have found a love for learning to be a common trait in highly effective teams.  The absence of this has been a recipe for building uninspiring products and an overall lack of strategy.  Learning can come in many forms: books, journals, websites you read outside of work ( I LOVE Harvard Business Review, FirstRound & Hackernoon), meetups or conferences you attend, brown bag sessions or training you advocate for at work.  It can also be done in simple ways like putting together a 'Lessons Learned' at the end of a project or the end of a quarter, sending out an article you think will be relevant to your company, sharing a hack that will help people in their day to day work etc.  In my experience, team members who don't invest in continuous learning also rarely push the status quo and are perfectly content with mediocrity.

How to deal: Start with having a clear idea of performance criteria. These can be things like Business & Strategic Leadership, Analytics, People Leadership etc. and what each of these categories entails at your organization. Without something like this, it is very hard to have the conversation around improvement.  Once you have baseline performance criteria, outline areas where they are strong and areas they are weak.  For the areas that need development, create a development plan and have ongoing dialogue as to where things are going.  Remember here, the driven people on your team will likely already have a development plan (even if its just in their head), so for the rest, you will need to ensure you are dedicating time to creating something together.

3. The absent teammate:
I have worked with someone who only showed up to work intermittently.  Team members never knew where this person was and no one was bold enough to ask. Distributed work environments also make it easy for this behavior to go unchecked. Then you have folks who dial into conference calls but multi-task their personal to-do list while technically dialed in. Let me be clear, as a mother of two young kids, I am fully supportive of both remote working flexibility and multi-tasking.  I would never get anything done otherwise.  But when either of these start affecting your performance and more importantly, your team's performance, it is an issue.

How to deal: Set clear expectations.  If you're ok with remote work, say it.  If remote work is only for special circumstances (like being home for the cable guy), say that as well.  The point here is to be transparent about what your expectations are and enforce them uniformly.  As a leader, people are taking their cues from you.  If you are multi-tasking during a meeting, people will interpret that as an ok for them to do the same. When everyone actively participates in meetings and calls, things move forward quicker. Model this behavior as a start and take it from there.

4. The toxic misery trait:
These folks are always the victims.  They have decided something about the job doesn't work for them but instead of leaving the job, they choose to stay and complain day in and day out.  These are the folks always telling you why something won't work without suggesting an alternative.  This behavior over a period of time usually has a huge impact on the morale of the overall team (including my own) - especially if the team is small.

How to deal:  In my experience, for the most part, this is the result of one of two things: there is something going on in their personal lives that is bleeding into their professional lives OR they are in a role that is somehow not congruent with what they want to do. Either ways, the only way to dig deeper is to have a sit down conversation.  If there is a different role, offer to start engineering a move, if it is personal and they need some flexibility, offer that as well.  These tactics work sometimes and sometimes, you will just need to figure out whether this will be a long term fit or not.

5. The 'all talk no action' trait:
I have worked with a lot of really smart people who have had far reaching impacts on their team, their organization and even their industry.  On the flip side, every so often, I come across someone who says all the right things but has done almost nothing to materially progress the team.  They have moved ahead in their careers because when you talk with them, you find yourself nodding a lot and getting very excited - but when it comes to execution, these folks don't deliver.  This was a fabulous article on how to interview so you only hire top performers but it can also be applied to evaluate your team's performance.

How to deal: Set good goals for each team member.  You don't need to be prescriptive on how to achieve them but hold everyone accountable for their deliverables - and ensure everyone has deliverables.  A great PowerPoint is just a collection of pretty slides if the outlined strategy is executed poorly.  Leaders need to be clear as to how success is measured and need to have checks and balances that will tell them how things are going. Take a look at this article on the OKR concept (Objective and Key Results) to get started.

Leadership is a journey and one that doesn't have a step-by-step guide.  Hope this helps some of you who are trying to navigate your way through!

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