UN Team Dynamics Note: How to Manage Toxic Teams - Blog

“Never apologize for showing feeling. When you do so, you apologize for the truth.” – British Statesman Benjamin Disraeli (1804 -1881)

 

Being deliberately vulnerable – the move of a corporate novice? Maybe. But doing so might just be the tonic your team needs to expel parasitic dysfunction.  A signature of toxic teams is the absence of trust which taxes routine interactions and slowly corrodes team morale.  As our teams become more diverse in composition and more geographically fragmented , the risk for toxic team dynamics dramatically increases.  Inspired by the United Nation’s mission of “facilitating cooperation” and reinforced by the latest 21st century management principles on team dynamics,  this note  helps you to avoid team dysfunction. In an upcoming webinar on Global Empathy, we advocate deft engagement rather than fearful avoidance.  Read more to learn four (4) essential channels for team effectiveness flow.

 

Crimson Oak was recently invited to speak at the United Nations to the Youth Assembly on the global impact education technology, sparking the idea for this note. From cubicle grudges to boardroom positioning, this note is likely applicable to your team. In true Benjamin Disraeli fashion, we are unapologetic for this note’s global focus and pointed perspective. 

Negotiation MBA courses’ theories such as BATNA (Best Alternative To a Negotiated Agreement) serve to highlight to an important element that can get lost in your the thick of toxic teams – you always have a choice. Assuming that the realm of your choices, doesn't include outright fist-fights or a dash to the "Exit" signs, then managing difficult team members and role-modeling behavior are essential. Four ways to embody and inspire your team include: 1) common language 2) accountability 3) interdependence and 4) collaborative decisions.

 

 COMMON LANGUAGE

Simple concept: your team needs to speak the same language. But before rushing to the sarcastic “duh” comment. Think about how jargon has been used to denote status. Words can be wielded to cleave groups into the astute and clueless. Terms such as “talking shop”, “follow me?”, even lovable “Muppets” can have vastly different meanings in a certain context or with the slightest intonation.  The UN’s army of language translators and transcripts are evidence of the importance. Since empathy is derived from commonality, ensuring that your team has shared stories and common language.

 

Recommended Action: Ask for clarity or confirmation of interpretation publicly in team meetings. This will help to ensure collective understanding and will provide others the courage to confront confounding statements.

 

ACCOUNTABILITY

In the aftermath of major corporate and national scandals, such as fraudulent Bank of America mortgage brokers and a broken Greek government, even the word “accountability” seems a bit sullied. Thankfully, a refinement of the term - “peer-based accountability” promoted emphatically in the “Five Dysfunctions of a Team” by Peter Lencioni, resurrects accountability to relevancy. You are accountable first and foremost to your own standards. A powerful reinforcing team-based ethic, however, is that you are also accountable to your peers. This shared value of the team has the potential to motivate team members to high performance.

 

Recommended Action: Rather than a dry “thanks” when expressing gratitude, consider adding some context on how your team mate’s action will help you achieve your goal and/or the team goals.

 

INTERDEPENDENCE

Few disciplines could underscore the necessity of interdependence more than “supply chain management.” A storm in Thailand affecting the availability of the latest iPhone: a supply chain management issue. Applying the concept to professional services environment, your team also needs to be mindful of the infrastructure to support interdependence. Curation, filtering and time to delivery are some of the key differences in knowledge-based vs. a hardware based supply chain.  An explicit recognition and reward system that supports team mates helping each other will help tighten team bonds.

 

Recommended Action: If in a managerial position, then ensure that additional budget capacity for incidental spikes in costs - scarcity frays teamwork.  If on the other hand, you are in a support role, then increase your team’s resources by being a volunteer floater, available when there is a manpower crunch. 

 

COLLABORATIVE DECISIONS

Over 190 countries’ divergent desires and hidden agendas are managed within the 65+-year old United Nations. The UN's decision making apparatus contains various safety valves, levels of committees and requires collaboration for any decision. The downside of having a very weaved process, is that decisions are sometimes slow and more susceptible to political manipulation. How are decisions made in your team? Do you believe that your voice has any influence? The answers to these questions will guide you in either adding or subtracting more collaborative decision making tools. Also, be mindful that extreme marginalization of any team member has the potential to swell latent resentment and spill toxic behavior throughout the team.

 

Recommended Action: Illuminate the decision making process in a memo or graphically to share with the team. Importantly, detail a “normal” process and a “fast track” process. Having a transparent process is for the greater good of the team.

 

FINAL THOUGHTS

Diplomats – like other elite professionals – are a special breed. Noble in aspiration and agile in deliberations they are magnetic in attracting criticism - even for the slightest faux pas. In gathering a team of such professionals, a common language, accountability, interdependence and a collaborative decision making process will help to dispel toxic behavior in the team. Regardless of the degree of dysfunction in your team, there are tools to help you. But ultimately it is your choice to make your team better, wither in the status quo or to leave. Grow & Lead.