How to detox your team

The beginning of the year brings promise and promises, with people often thinking about how they can detox their lives and bodies and obtain great personal benefits from doing so.

To keep things on track, initiatives are set up like Feb Fast that not only keep New Year’s resolutions in place but also benefit a great cause.

Teams can also benefit from a detox.

Teams exist to produce results and team toxins impact performance, culture, and productivity.

Are toxins derailing your team’s success?

Team toxins impact two areas: the team’s productivity (results achieved) and the team’s positivity (the team’s culture, environment and happiness). When assessing team toxins, it’s useful to look through these two lenses.

Step 1 – Identify the toxins

The first step is to identify the toxins that are impacting your team’s productivity and positivity. Examine your team as a system, how is that system operating? What derails the system?

Dr John Gottman, renowned for his work on marital stability and divorce prediction, conducted over 40 years of research into why relationships break down. Teams can also benefit from this research and his ‘Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse’ (four key problems that lead to divorce).

Criticism: Attacking the person rather than the behaviour. This is usually done with the intent of making the person wrong.

When this is present there is lots of ‘you’ language, ‘you don’t, you always’.

Contempt:  Attacking a person’s sense of self with the intention to insult them. There will often be sarcasm (including inappropriate use of humour), belittling, cynicism and name calling. Body language and tone of voice also play a part here, the person may sneer, roll their eyes, huff etc.

Defensiveness: Taking all feedback personally, when individuals are defensive they see themselves as a victim and are looking to ward off perceived attacks.

Often present is blaming, whinging, excuses, and cross-complaining – ‘Yes but’ comments and responding to a complaint with a counter complaint ignoring the other person.

Stonewalling:  Withdrawing as a way to avoid conflict. Team members may think they are trying to be “impartial”, however, stonewalling conveys disapproval, distance, separation, disconnection, and/or smugness.

If you recognise the above in your team, it’s time to act. Be mindful that as human beings we do all of these, it’s the sustained effect that is corrosive. Suspending judgement and coming from a perspective of wanting to build a high performing team where positive behaviours dominate is the goal. Most people want to part of team that rate high in positivity. I doubt many people actively strive to be a part of a low performing and negative team.

Asking for feedback from others (whose opinion you value) about how they see your team can be valuable, observing behaviours and team dynamics from outside the system often provides an objective viewpoint. What is the brand that your team has? Are you seen as a team who achieves their business objectives? Are you seen as a team others would like to be a part of?

Below is a three-step guide to help you work with your team to eliminate these team toxins.

1. Set some agreements on how you will all behave during the meeting. You may ask what needs to be present for people to feel comfortable contributing to the conversation. Team members may say things like honesty, trust and confidentiality. Write them up on a flip chart/ white board.

2. Awareness. Have the conversation as a team. Introduce the work of Gottman into the discussion and how damaging these toxins are to relationships. Now apply that to how toxic behaviour derails the success of your team. Ask for examples, being mindful to keep the conversation focused on the impact on the team (away from individuals). It’s extremely important to ensure that no one focuses on individuals in the team. If there are issues between individuals, ask them to meet each other to resolve the situation outside this discussion. By keeping the focus away from individuals and on the team there will be less finger pointing and blaming and more opportunity to move forward.

3. Replace. Often we focus on the negative behaviours and we find we just get more of them. Frustrating isn’t it! What we focus on is what we tend to get more of. Time to shift the focus:  If we don’t want to see high levels of toxic behaviour, what do we want to see? Identify the four behaviours that would promote more positivity in the team and focus on having more of these. Dieters often struggle to give up certain foods, but research now shows that rather than giving up something just add more of the good stuff. This is known as crowding out. As you experience the benefits from the healthier choices you no longer crave the unhealthy ones. We can use the same philosophy with our teams. Once your team has identified the four behaviours that build more positivity in the team and focus on that, these behaviours will crowd out the negative destructive behaviours. Discuss how you will know they are present in the team.

Below is an example of four positive team behaviours that promote more harmony and positivity.

1. Respect: We might respect a position and rank (think about a military commander, his position is respected) and follow orders, but still not necessarily behave respectfully to each other. Establish what respect and respectful behaviour looks like to this team. How are we behaving when we respect each other? Get conscious about what respect means and engage in more respectful ways of working together.

2. Trust:  How are the levels of trust in your team? What does trust look like for this team. What are the behaviours of teams that trust each other? Trust is experienced and over time we learn to either trust or mistrust. As a team, discuss how trust is eroded and built and how you can build more trust. Discuss how this would impact the team.

3. Communication: Examine how you communicate as a team. What do you need more of in this team? Would more honest robust communication benefit your team, if yes how? Identify the positive impact this would have on the team. What would it be like to be part of a team that was able interact constructively? Are you being too polite as a team? Are you avoiding constructive conflict? Build a picture of how regular and more meaningful communication would benefit the team.

4. Value Diversity: As a team do you value each other’s differences. Having a team of diverse individuals promotes more success in a team. Often we can resist the differences we feel and hear in others, however, seeing the value these differences bring can greatly add to a team’s success. To become a high performing team with a positive environment and culture, all voices need to be valued and heard.

Take on the philosophy of world-renowned author and psychotherapist, Arnold Mindell, and his ‘deep democracy’ process. Deep democracy adopts an attitude of curiosity to all opinions and voices, even those you do not want to hear, are disagreeable or anger you. It asks us to try to “appreciate the origins of everyone’s viewpoint, including those who conflict and war”.  Mindell believes shutting down another’s viewpoint is to adopt the worst qualities of terrorism. Through his work, Mindell has demonstrated how most conflicts can be resolved through taking this one step alone. If we shut down voices that want to be heard, eventually they will escalate and use any means to be heard. By valuing and listening to the diversity of voices in our team we stop the escalation that can be destructive.

What agreements do you need to make as a team to ensure diversity is valued and that voices and differences are heard?

Accountability is the final piece: How will you hold each other accountable for implementing better ways of working as a team? What are the consequences if team members continue to engage in toxic, destructive behaviours and how will these be enforced?

Pollyanna Lenkic is the founder of Perspectives Coaching, an Australian based coaching and training company. In 1990 she co-founded a specialist IT recruitment consultancy in London, which grew to employ 18 people and turnover £11 million ($27 million). In this blog Pollyanna answers questions from our readers on issues they are experiencing leading or being part of a team.  She offers insights on teams and team dynamics. For support and information on team days run by Perspectives Coaching see here. Her previous Blog for SmartCompany, 2nd Time Around was about the mistakes she made and the lessons she learned building a business the first time round and how to do it better second time round.


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