April 19, 2019

Can Toxic Teams Change?

Ben was leaving his organization. He shared with me that one of his employees made a really bonehead move that brought a lot of community scrutiny. This employee’s actions were clearly not Ben’s fault, but a senior leader told Ben that if the issue spilled over to the larger organization, past Ben’s division, that Ben would be going out the door. Everyone backed away from Ben as if he had the plague. No support. No encouragement. No guidance.

Ben weathered the storm, but the internal damage to Ben was irreversible. Because of his talent he quickly found a new job. I asked him if the new organization had a clear vision, and did he think his new team was a strong unit that had each others’ back. Ben responded, “Is that a thing?” Not quite sure if he heard me, I repeated, “You know, a team that comes together around a clear vision and makes sure to support each other.” In all seriousness, Ben asked, “Is that really a thing?” Sad and sobering.

Healthy teams are a thing. The key to achieving it is focusing on something called psychological safety. Sounds hard, but the tactics are pretty straight forward. https://www.nytimes.com/2016/02/28/magazine/what-google-learned-from-its-quest-to-build-the-perfect-team.html