Detox your team

Zeb was enthusiastic about stepping into his first team leader role. Little did he know that he was ‘inheriting’ a toxic team.

Sarcasm and catty remarks were abundant. Positive remarks and respectful interactions were rare. Conflicts from years ago were still reverberating. Here’s how I helped build a healthier dynamic in this team. You can use the same strategies to set your team up for success.

Find common ground

Common ground is a metaphor for shared interests, values, goals and beliefs. Finding common ground helps team members connect with each other. Finding common ground involves focusing team members’ attention on commonalities rather than differences. Ask them to find points they can all agree on, rather than focusing on points of disagreement. At work, common ground can often be found around shared experiences, professional standards or the organisation’s mission, vision and purpose.

Set norms for communication

Don’t leave communication to chance. Instead, set your team up with a set of behavioural guidelines or ‘norms.’ Team norms make expectations about behaviour explicit. But they don’t work if they’re imposed. You need to involve the entire team in defining the norms they are willing to work to.

To do this, brainstorm a list of behaviours that people think will help support positive communication patterns. Narrow this down to five or six key behaviours. Print your final list and post it in your work area and meeting rooms. Include a review of how well you are living those norms at every team meeting.

Challenge breaches

Installing new habits isn’t always easy. Anyone who has set a New Year’s resolution only to fall back into bad habits by February knows that. So you need to keep team members accountable. If norms are breached, speak up. Use a simple feedback process to do this. Start by pointing out what has just been said or done. Then remind them of the relevant team norm and request a change of behaviour.

Catch people doing things right

Positive reinforcement is far more powerful that critical feedback. When your co-workers remember to stick to the team’s norms, thank them. Point out what they did or said. Then say “That’s a great example of sticking to our norm on _______. Thank you.”

Need advice on a tricky situation? Ask Eleanor now.