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.

Episode Notes

Clayton Lengel-Zigich, Roy van de Water and Deb Spicer discuss 10 Destructive Behaviors That Can Bring Down a Team’s Success:

10 behaviors observed over 25 years

Deb’s book, Power Teams VIP

Why is lip service so prevalent?

How can a manager keep good team members while helping everyone improve?

Dealing with culture and millennials

What’s the worst behavior for the team?

How to improve bad behaviors

Are some people just not right for the team?


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?

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.

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.”

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.

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?

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,