4 Poisons of Great Teamwork

A little poison goes a long way.

The leaders on your team may be gifted and high capacity people, but no amount of talent can prevent teamwork toxin from taking its toll.

I’ve been asked many times, “Would you really let someone go for a bad attitude?”

My response is always the same, “Would you really pay someone for a bad attitude?!” 

I never delight in someone being released from a team, but yes, without a change, I would let them go. I’m not willing to pay anyone for a lousy attitude. That kind of attitude is available for free.

(This principle is not limited to paid staff.)

Here’s the thing. Attitude is a choice.

You can have an honest and kind conversation with someone that exposes their attitude. They can go home that night, think about it, pray, and get a good night’s sleep. Then they can literally decide to come back the next day with a good attitude.

It’s not easy, but it is that simple.

However, it’s never only the fault or responsibility of the team member. As team leaders we share responsibility as well.

Our main contribution is often allowing it to go too long without having the honest conversation. We always get what we allow.

And sometimes, hopefully not often, we are not leading in a way that brings out the best. It’s always good to look in the mirror first.

Assuming you are leading well, and that ultimately there is no excuse for a bad attitude, it’s just not something that is acceptable.

Don’t let the toxins ruin your team.

4 Poisons:

1) Excuse makers

2) Complaint givers

3) Negative thinkers

4) Entitlement believers

Don’t let these four teamwork toxins poison your team.

You have enough legit problems to solve. Invest your time solving problems that help the team make progress.

Notice that all four are attitudes, not skills.

A 4 step antidote to the poison:

1) Clearly establish your team culture.

What are the values and practices of your culture? Make them known and live them out.

Always focus on what you are for and put most of your energy there.

Don’t assume that unique values within your culture are common knowledge, let alone accepted and practiced.

We are all human, and under pressure, we can quickly slide into an unhealthy attitude. Because of that reality there are times when you need to be clear about what doesn’t work in your culture.

The only way your team knows what is unacceptable is if you tell them and set a good example.

It’s always best to emphasize and focus on the positive traits of a team, but on occasion, it’s essential to communicate what is unacceptable.

Remember, it’s important that you never declare that something is unacceptable that you are not willing to take action upon. You need to back up what you say, or don’t say it.

It’s not necessary to be aggressive or mean, but clear and firm is needed.

2) Confront quickly.

There is no need for public confrontation unless it’s a flagrant and repeated demonstration of a bad attitude in group settings.

Normally, just take the person aside and engage them in a very clear and candid conversation. Let them know that a poor attitude will not be tolerated, and if it continues, they will lose their spot on the team.

Don’t lead with a threat. Affirm your belief in them as their best self. Ask questions to see if something is going on in their personal life that helps explain their attitude.

In short, give the benefit of the doubt. Talk about the obvious benefits of a great attitude and the downside of a poor attitude.

Make sure they see and agree with your perception of their attitude before taking any further steps. You can’t coach what they can’t see, understand or disagree with.

If the sour attitude persists, action must be taken.

3) Coach for improvement.

Redemption should always be the first goal when confronting someone who is pouring poison into the culture. But unlike coaching someone to improve a skill, you don’t have much time when coaching an attitude.

As I mentioned attitude is a choice. They will either choose to make a change or not.

Nonetheless, coach for improvement first by encouraging them, letting them know you care, and you want them on the team. 

If it is something of a personal nature that is underneath the sour disposition, listen at a heart level and show genuine empathy. Maybe they need counseling. Maybe a few days off to gather their composure. If this is the case, extend a little more grace and time for change.

Perhaps they have lost sight of the vision, or feel entitled to a promotion, or disagree with a decision that was made. Coach them to higher ground.

4) Make the tough call.

If the leader makes the attitude adjustment, great! Let them know they are doing great and press on!

If they don’t turn the corner quickly, have one more meeting. Ask if they understood the expectation and ramifications of no change.

Give grace with another short amount of time. If no change is made, they made their choice, and you must be prepared to make the tough call.

They will need to step off the team, but this should never be a surprise. There should be written notes, verbal understanding and confidence that everything possible was done to make it work.

Let’s be candid, it’s challenging enough to coach skills, develop leadership and achieve the desired goals with good attitudes. So don’t let poison ruin your teamwork and diminish your results. Set the bar high and enjoy both the relationships and the results!

10 thoughts on “4 Poisons of Great Teamwork”

  1. Great insights! When a snake bites you take immediate action to survive. Treat the team/organization in the same manner you would when bitten by a snake. Every minute without treatment or action has future impact on the health of the team/organization.

  2. How do you do this when there is a toxic team environment? When there is no confidence in leadership and you are a worker bee? This is where God has you for this time for some purpose.

    1. Daniel,

      Your best response is to set a good example in your own life and leadership and avoid all toxic conversations.

  3. Hello Dan, I’m from Brazil, I lead a ministry, Fruits of the faith Apostolic Church in Cells. I have been very blessed for your posts in all aspects, thank you for blessing us.

    1. Hi Rosivaldo,

      Thank you for your kind words of encouragement and I’m glad these posts have been helpful to you.


  4. Dan, this is so powerful to me as a principal. You are so on point! Thank you for sharing your gracious wisdom. One of your greatest fans, Darlene Hudson

  5. Thanks so much Darlene.

    Glad this resonates with you, but my hunch is that part of the reason is because you have such a great attitude yourself and you know how important this is!

    I appreciate you!

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