A taxonomy of toxic teams (video transcript)

In 2003, the SARS epidemic hit Toronto. It was an unidentified, and a deadly virus, but it wasn’t just affecting people in our community. It was also affecting the staff in the hospitals. A couple of years later, I had the chance to work with the executive team of one of the hospitals at the center of the crisis.

As we talked about it, we were really talking about all that went right during that crisis. It became clear to me, though, that they were almost reminiscing about it. How a crisis created alignment, it really reduced the number of priorities, and really stopped all the politics that goes on in a big organization like a hospital.

This was a team that got so much done in crisis. Unfortunately, the complexity of a large hospital and the different things they were trying to accomplish caused them to bog down when there wasn’t a clear crisis.

Crisis Junkie Team

I call this a crisis junkie team, a team that needs something to go wrong for the team to come together. In my years in working with top teams, I’ve realized there are about five really common toxic teams that we see all the time. The crisis junkie team is just one of them.

Bobble Head Team

The second kind of toxic team is a bobble head team. This is a team where everybody’s nodding all the time. Sure, it feels good, because everyone gets along, and sees things the same way. But these are the kind of teams where things like group think happen, because people think too much alike. They don’t understand the risk, and they really detach from reality.

It’s not safe to be on a bobblehead team.

Bleeding Back Team

The third kind of toxic team is what I call the bleeding back team. This is a really passive-aggressive team. If you looked through the window of one of their meetings, you might think it was a bobblehead team, ’cause there’s so many people nodding and agreeing.

Unfortunately, their disagreement happens only outside the room after the meeting, by the water cooler. That’s when you see the gossip, and the backstabbing. Passive-aggressive teams move really slowly, because decisions get made in the room, but they get reopened through back channels. Definitely not a good place to be.

Spectator Team

The fourth kind of toxic team, is a spectator team. And they’re hardly a team at all. Spectator teams are really where a couple of people have an interaction, and everybody else just watches. Sometimes that’s because the boss has a series of one-on-one meetings with everybody present. Other times it’s because a couple of dominant personalities suck the oxygen right out of the room.

Either way, it’s a colossal waste of time.

Royal Rumble Team

The fifth kind of toxic team is the royal rumble team, and there’s no passive in this aggressive. This is just hand-to-hand combat, right at it. There’s a lot of yelling and screaming, and people are really trying to push their points of view. Unfortunately, the one thing that never happens in a royal rumble team, is listening. And when you’re just going back and forth, you’re not going forward.

These are the five toxic teams I see all the time. No matter which one it is, it’s not healthy, it’s not productive, and it’s gotta stop.

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