In my chat with a founder this week, he was venting his frustration about the difficulties in creating his dream team culture. Solving a critical customer problem & building a great organization were the two reasons that he had started up. 15 months into his journey, he was making great progress on the first goal but creating a great organization had started to look very daunting.
He had put together a very talented team, but some of them were just not able to work with each other. He ended up having to constantly step in to “referee” or resolve issues. This was frustrating especially because he wanted the culture of freedom and autonomy to be the foundation of the team’s culture.
As we chatted it became clear that this situation had arisen after one individual joined the team. He was super-talented, had a history of success in his previous organizations and was someone that the founder believed was critical to the success of his company. The issue was with his style. He frequently “forgot” to keep the others in the loop on important decisions, decided priorities unilaterally and only showed up for team meetings, if the founder was part of the meeting. The individual was clearly disruptive and dysfunctional to the team! When I asked the founder if he had given this person feedback and asked him to fix the issues- his answer was “No, I haven’t. He is a top performer, I don’t want to piss him off”!
Unfortunately, this story is a very common one. Most of us have been faced with the dilemma of how to deal with a perceived “star” team member who is dysfunctional to the team.
The reality is that “the culture we create, is a combination of what we encourage and what we tolerate”. Most of us get the “encourage” part right. But we frequently miss the “tolerate” part!
Three things to do to bring your team back on track-
- Identify the team behaviors that are dysfunctional
Sometimes, it is easy to fall into the trap that one person is the problem and letting them go will solve the issue. However, more often than not, others on the team would have the same dysfunctional behavior or learnt it quickly as a way to survive and succeed. Identifying the behaviors that are dysfunctional to the team is the first step to creating the team’s culture.
- Call out dysfunctional team behaviors
As leaders, it is important for us to have the courage to discuss dysfunctional team behaviors with the team. Be open about discussing the kind of team culture you want to create. Work with the team to identify team behaviors that conflict with the team culture you want to create. Set expectations that there will be zero tolerance for these dysfunctional behaviors going forward.
The biggest point of failure is not acting when dysfunction persists. Action does not always have to be a “firing” event. Action includes- feedback, support to improve, recognizing changed behavior …. Letting a person go should be the last resort. But it is important to recognize that sometimes this may be the only option!
When dysfunctional team behaviors are tolerated, it gives the team free reign to continue the behavior and it becomes clear to others that this is acceptable behavior. Acting on this is our responsibility as leaders!
The culture we create is always not just about what we encourage and reward. In the words of Gruenter & Whitaker – “The culture of any organization is shaped by the worst behavior the leader is willing to tolerate”