10 Destructive Team Behaviors with Deb Spicer

Episode 60

May 17, 2012


The Agile Weekly Crew and Deb Spicer discuss 10 destructive behaviors that can bring down a team's success.

Clayton: Welcome to another episode of the Agile Weekly Podcast. I’m Clayton Lengel‑Zigich.

Roy: I’m Roy van de Water.

Clayton: Joining us today, we have Deb Spicer. You can say hi, Deb.

Deb: Hi. How are you?

Destructive Team Behaviors

Clayton: Good. We actually found an article you had written. The title is “10 Destructive Behaviors That Can Bring Down a Team’s Success” and that’s we wanted to talk to you about. A lot of the work that we do involves working with teams and taking teams from maybe being some dysfunctional team and trying to get them toward high performing and those things. We were really interested in that topic.

First off, I was just curious. Where was it you came up with this list of 10 ideas? Is that something you’ve observed or a list you’ve compiled with people in the industry? Where’d you come up with that?

Deb: Actually, I came up with it after 25 years of working in global matrix teams or organizations and it is part of the book that I wrote, “Power Teams.” We can talk about that later, but actually I wrote the whole book about high‑performing teams, what makes them high performing and also when you do have destructive behaviors, how do you deal with that.

Lip Service

Clayton: We’re look at a few of the behaviors that were identified on that list and we had some questions about some of those.

The first one that jumped out at us was the one about lip service. We feel like whenever we identify this where there’s somebody that is in the organization that’s like this, it seems like everybody know that that person is full of it but nobody seems to say anything about it. Why do you think that is?

Deb: It’s very common. There are a couple of reasons that people behave that way. One is in all these behaviors, people behave the way that they do because leading to this point, it has worked for them in some form or another. When you have someone that promises everything but doesn’t really deliver on that, then it’s likely that that person has gotten away without being accountable for the things that they claim.

By instilling some accountability for that person by breaking it down, holding their feet to the fire, that helps change that behavior and it just shows them, “hey, it’s a new day and you can say whatever you want but the rewards will come from the delivery, not from the words.”

Inacting Counters To Bad Team Behaviors

Clayton: Another thing we were wondering about is…we’re trying, whenever we have guests on the show, to take a viewpoint of maybe one of the listeners…so, if I’m a manager listening to this podcast and I think, “OK. I’ve identified these 10 behaviors, and I understand they’re wrong.

If I want to make my team better and promote the good things, how do I keep my team intact, because if people get better, aren’t they just going to leave and get a better job, or something”?

Deb: That’s a great question. In fact, when teams come together and achieve for something being themselves, they tend to stay, because that is a reward that is so rarely seen in organizations. It’s like when you get in the trenches with a group of people, but yet you achieve, you come out, you succeed, and you’re rewarded. Those teams tend to be the ones that stay together in a very tight cluster, move on, and take on even bigger challenges and bigger jobs together.

They’ve gelled, they trust each other, they know how to deal with conflict, they feel safe to just push back on each other, and challenge each other’s ideas. Always on the other side of that, something bigger and better comes out of it, so, in fact, organizations don’t have to worry.

The organizations that promote that kind of team cohesiveness, with many different teams in the organizations, are the ones who have the most innovation, are the strongest, and tend to be the leaders in the forefront of whatever dynamic is happening in the marketplace.

Merging Cultures

Clayton: One thing that you’ve mentioned also is the idea about the old culture. There’re some people who maybe have been there for a long time and have a way of doing things. Something that we’ve been seeing a lot…it looks like a lot of chatter is, especially in the software industry where you have people that are the new Millennial Generation. These 20‑somethings maybe out of college…

Roy: I guess me.

Clayton: Yes. That might describe Roy, actually.

How do you integrate that? They got these old culture people that have a certain way of doing things, and then you got these Millennials. Would you have any insight on treating this kind of generational gap?

Deb: I can, and in fact that chapter in my book talks about a computer company that was number two in the marketplace. Overtime, the focus was on one of the divisions in the company that was not performing, and that was to the detriment of what were the high‑performing divisions.

There was enough complacency to go around that really brought the company down and it slipped down to number three. Important in dealing with this is to just shake that culture up. How do you do that?

First of all, as the leader, what you do is you start setting very tight timelines on deliverables. You start speeding things up. You start the focus on what those measurable outcomes are going to be.

You add things like higher level team reports so that those people that are complacent on a team, psychologically they know they better step up or they risk looking bad in front of the higher management folks. You keep the pressure, you set the deliverables, you set the timelines short, you know, “By Thursday this is what is due.”

You hold people’s feet to the fire and what you see happening then is it’s not the leader holding people accountable, it’s the rest of the team that starts holding them accountable. That style supports the new millennial styles of work that haven’t been built in to some of the older cultures. Then the pressure starts coming from within the team and not just a top‑down kind of pressure.

Clayton: Just to clarify, you’re suggesting applying these pressures to the entire team, right? Not to individuals or is it…

Deb: Correct.

Clayton: …or is it doing it to the individual?

Applying Pressure To Teams

Deb: No. In fact, that’s a good point because whenever we talk about these behaviors, that is what we’re talking about. The people themselves are not bad people, it’s just that they have gotten used to using behaviors that don’t necessarily fit with the kind of culture organizations need today when those organizations want to succeed.

We address the behavior by putting things in place that will shake it up. That’s a particular one, you haven’t mentioned the piranha factor, but that’s actually one of the hardest ones to deal with for this reason. It doesn’t matter as a leader how charismatic you are, it doesn’t matter how great of a negotiator you are or a communicator. This behavior is very difficult.

Just close your eyes for a minute and think about this scene. You’re in Brazil, you’re on a bridge looking over the river down into the water, and you take a piece of raw meat and you throw it down into the water. What happens?

All of a sudden, you see backs of fish. It starts looking like a washing machine is just churning up the water and you see tails and fins and pieces of scales and stuff floating in the water. What that is, it’s the piranhas. They’re coming after that raw piece of meat.

In the piranha mentality, it doesn’t matter…what people don’t understand is they are eating each other to get to that prize. It doesn’t matter who’s in the way. They just go after them and they’ll take them out to get the prize. Picture that in a team setting. The same destructive things happen. The piranha personality can leave a whole team in shreds. It doesn’t matter who they take out because for whatever their motivation or agenda is, they’re going to take out anybody who gets in their way.

That’s an important one that if you inherit that person who has that personality or if you’re taking over a new team and you see that coercive, manipulative, sabotaging, demeaning kind of personality, what you have is a piranha, what I call the piranha factor. One of the most difficult and destructive team behaviors is that and it’s manifested by deliberate manipulation, deliberate coercion.

They will sabotage individuals and the team as a whole for whatever their personal gain is. That behavior of all of them needs to be dealt with immediately and it needs to be dealt with very firmly.

How do you do that? One of the ways is that, while you’re in the team setting, you still handle everyone very professionally, because the other team leaders, who are very aware, just like the ingrained old culture, everybody sees it. Everybody knows.

But it’s your leadership that’s important in this scenario, to not that person out, if you will, in front of everyone. It’s you address it professionally, firmly…

Deb: Then what you do is, besides talking to that particular person outside of that team setting, what you want to do is find a way to remove them from their comfort zone.

What that means is, and what I’ve used in the past is, I then moved the entire team outside of the role that they bring to that team. IT, example, if you’re an IT programmer, then I might move you to the finance role, so you have to put on the thinking cap as if you were the finance person for that organization. If you’re a quality assurance person on the IT team, I might move you to the market role.

As the piranha is the director of IT programming, like I said, I wouldn’t move that person to a finance role. Everybody figuratively moves outside of their own comfort zone, so what you get is the information, experience, enthusiasm that people bring to their regular job, plus you’re making them stretch themselves into what if I were the finance person, how would I deal with this team challenge or this team initiative that we need to solve.

Roy: I guess the moving people around works but what if you have somebody on your team that is irredeemable, or he doesn’t seem to be willing to take on any of the positive traits that your team requires, and they just keep exhibiting his negative ones? Do you find that that even happens? Is nobody irredeemable? Or, if somebody is irredeemable, how do you deal with that?

Deb: The easy way is to [laughs] remove them from the team, if you can. In my circumstance, that I write about in the book, it was people higher up than me required that this person stay on, because they found that person brought something in a niche way that was important.

Because this initiative was at such a high level, and the outcome of this initiative was so critical to changing some of the direction for the company, the other team members, who were also decision makers, actually took on the role policing this person, and it didn’t have to be me to get them in the right vein. They did it themselves.

But there are some people who, no matter what, will make sure that they don’t have any personal loyalty that they will not allow the team to collaborate, they’ll keep blinders on, they’ll stay single‑focused, and, at the end of the day, they have to be removed, or else it destroys your entire team.

How Can Team Members Deal With Problems Within The Team

Roy: One last question for you here. Let’s say that I’m just a member of the team, and I come across this article, or maybe I listen to this podcast, and I’m witnessing some of these behaviors on my team.

What can I do? What to do for a step for me? Maybe I’m not ready to stick my neck out and make a big deal out of it, but I want to make some change.

Deb: Very good question. The most important thing that you can do is be an example. You heard of the 80/20 role in business and in sales. There’s a different role. It’s called the 10/80/10 role.

What happens is 10 percent of any team, of an organization, of a homeowners association, whatever dynamic that you have, 10 percent of the people will be wonderful cheerleaders, they’ll buy in immediately, they’ll rah‑rah, they’ll be supportive.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, you have 10 percent, no matter what, that will serve their destructive behaviors. They’re against things because that’s just who they are. If everybody else wants it, they don’t want it. Then there’s this 80 percent in the middle, we call them the mushy middle.

This is in politics, this is in lobbying, in can be in churches. 80 percent of the people are the followers. They’re going to look, they’re going to watch, they’re going to observe, and then, eventually, they’re going to choose aside the 10 percent positive, the 10 percent negative.

You, as a person who wants to see the success of this, modeling successful behavior will start to bring more and more of that 80 percent over to that dynamic. You’ll see more and more people come to that. What, ultimately, does that do? It marginalizes and makes the 10 percent who are negative very insignificant.

Even as a younger manager, new in your growth professionally, you can still model the behaviors as if you’re at a higher level, and you’ll find that more and more of the mushy middle will start to also model those behaviors, again making the negative, stubborn, procrastinating type of people, or the outright saboteurs, be very insignificant, because they won’t be able to sway the team.

Clayton: It’s a good answer. I’m a big fan of modeling good behavior, so that’s a great way to think about it. We’re about out of time here, but you’ve mentioned a book. I was curious if there is anything else relating to the book or anything like that you’d like to share with the listeners.

Deb: Sure. Actually, the book is called “Power Teams: The New SQUARE ROOT MODEL That Changes Everything!” It’s on Amazon, by Deb Spicer. If you’d like to look up on my website, it’s quantumlevelsuccess.com. Also, I do have some additional materials. I have a quick reference guide that goes with the book that I give for free. I have some chapters that are available for free.

If you have any questions that are bothering you with any of your team members, and you’d just like to drop me a line, I’m very happy. I talk through ID as an issues with people all the time. It’s no charge. I really enjoy hearing the good and successful team stories as well as the challenges, and I think talking through those makes us all stronger, so I encourage you. It’s deb@quantumlevelsuccess.com. Please reach out. I’d love to hear from you.

Clayton: Great. That sounds great. We really appreciate you taking the time to speak with us today, and we loved having you.

Deb: Thank you, and thank you for inviting me, to your success, to your team success. I wish you the best. Take care.

Clayton: Thanks.

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