When One Team Member Is Ruining Your Team

Harvard Business Review

October 15, 2008

by Marshall Goldsmith

This is a great question – which I just reviewed from another blog. I hope that my answer is helpful:

– My first suggestion is to work on improving the team behavior of every team member. In this way, the one person you are having problems with won’t feel ‘singled out’ by you.

– Have each team member ask each other team member a simple question: “In the future, how can I do a great job of helping our team demonstrate effective teamwork?”

– Encourage each team member to be positive and focused in their replies to other team members.

– Encourage each team member to listen to, learn from, and express gratitude for these suggestions.

– Have each team member discuss what they have learned from the other team members with you – in a one-on-one dialogue.

– Provide your ideas – as the manager of the team — after you have heard the summary of the other suggestions from this person’s team members.

– Ask each person to commit to following up with fellow team members on their plan for improvement to get ongoing suggestions and reinforcement.

– Participate in the process yourself – so that you are ‘leading by example’ not just ‘leading by preaching at everyone else.’

This series of suggestions will work if the person you are trying to help has issues that are behavioral, is willing to try, and will be given a fair chance by the other team members. If the person is unwilling to try, or has a sarcastic or cynical attitude toward change, this won’t work.

If she has this bad attitude, tell her that a change in behavior is critically important. Let her know that you want to help her however you can – but that she is going to have to make the effort to improve. If she still doesn’t care, either fire her or, if she is a critical individual contributor who can function well without team interaction, have her work alone.