Combat the Effects of a Divisive Team Member with These 3 Tips

Apr 27, 2017
5 Min Read
Combat the Effects of a Divisive Team Member with These Three Tips


Combat the Effects of a Divisive Team Member with These Three Tips


There are times when as a leader you suspect something is wrong with your team. There seems to be an underlying tension that you can’t quite pinpoint, and you’re concerned that engagement and productivity are dropping.

You consider whether the team is overworked, has realistic goals and access to the right tools. You decide none of those things is a problem. Then you turn to the various personalities on the team and bingo, the problem becomes clear.

While it’s certainly bad news that someone’s personality and actions are hurting others, it becomes even more complicated when the team member is a top performer.


Now what?

You may decide to ignore it and hope it works itself out. After all, you don’t want to risk ticking off a top performer and seeing him or her walk away. You may even justify the behavior, telling yourself that superstars often have quirky personalities. Look at all the people who complained about Steve Jobs!

However, studies from the University of Michigan, Grenoble Ecole de Management, Georgetown University and the University of Virginia suggest that this approach often backfires, dragging down the performance of the entire team.

In one study, IT workers from an engineering company were asked to evaluate their relationships with colleagues. Researchers also considered employee performance reviews in order to look at prior performance.

The results of the study show that workers who had to interact with a “de-energizer”  had lower job performance levels. In fact, those who had to work with a divisive team member the most had the lowest levels of job performance.

“We’re showing that there’s a real cost to this prima donna syndrome,” says Gretchen Spreitzer from the University of Michigan. “Leaders need to enforce the work culture and norms. There are many ways to do that while still valuing the good work they do,”


Optimize Team Interactions

Spreitzer suggests that managers consider the following tips to optimize team synergy and business outcomes.

1. Look at the overall performance of all team members. Those with technical skills should not be promoted based solely on their expertise. Their impact on the well-being and performance of others on the team is just as vital a consideration.

2. Provide feedback. You can’t expect someone to improve if you aren’t coaching on an ongoing basis. Don’t wait until a performance review to bring up team-busting behavior such as:

  • Shutting others out   
  • Blaming others
  • Taking all the glory  
  • Negativity
  • Manipulation and intimidation

3. Give well-rounded training.  Don’t just train for a new process or business practice. Provide training that re-enforces the company’s culture and professional behavior expectations.
“A lot of times people think that positive business is just about everyone being nice to each other,”Spreitzer says. “It’s really about improving outcomes, and one way to do that is to reinforce your culture.”

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