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Beware the 'Dark Angels'

Dealing with Team Disruptives.

Whilst destructive team conflict (as opposed to high performance constructive team conflict) can simply be caused by differences in personality styles and other ‘team’ factors such as a lack of clarity and understanding of situations, these can usually be remedied by raising awareness with behavioural styles training, strengths profiling and a solidly constructed team charter.

However, there may be some team members who cause conflict due to their specific behaviours and attitudes. Below I will outline some types of individuals who may have to be handled carefully and correctly, for team conflict to be minimised.

The "Prima Donna" - These people tend to be talented and tend to let people know about it! They think that because of their talent they do not have to abide by the team's agreed rules or contract, and they demand that the other team members attend to them, while they themselves ignore the needs of the team. Even when the team do try to include the "prima donna" they are brushed off. The "prima donna" oozes arrogance. How does the team manager (or team if a high-performance team) handle this type of person?

Firstly, recognise that their personality is not their fault and secondly appreciate that what you see is not all there is. Arrogant people often have major insecurities and may be experiencing more pain and stress than the other team members. There may also be stresses out with the workplace so be prepared to perhaps at some point to become the "counselling" team manager or if you are not qualified in that area, to refer onwards. Thirdly, just check that the team itself is not causing the problem. Sometimes the "prima donna's" arrogance is due to being excluded from the team as the team find it hard to deal with the "Prima Donna's" extra talent and to that end start to exclude them deliberately. Also check that your team rules are not so strict that they are preventing creativity and innovation.

The behaviour of the "Prima Donna" must be highlighted to the "Prima Donna" themselves and the team manager should ensure that not only is the feedback given constructively but a "listening ear" is given as to why the behaviour is occurring. Only then can a meaningful discussion take place as to how best to move forward in order that the disruptive behaviours are replaced with productive ones along with the scope for the "Prima Donna" to remain at their creative best. It may be useful to consider giving them a "specialist" role within the team and make sure that you keep reviewing their progress with them regularly and do not forget the recognition of their efforts!

The "Dominator" or 'Loud Mouth' - Every team has them - a person who always wants to dominate team activities and ensure they get the lion’s share of attention. The usual way of dealing with the dominator is to "slap them down" by either telling them outright to quit their domineering behaviours or by both ignoring and talking over them, or by relegating them to tasks out with the team. I believe this is counter-productive and it is in these situations where the team manager comes to the fore in team meetings. How about the following:

a. Call on the other team members to contribute. When the "dominator" pipes up acknowledge their contribution and encourage the other team members to come up with their own contributions.

b. Make the team agenda work by sticking to it. Many "dominators" will throw in "wobblies" or ‘curve balls’ that take the team away from the agenda. The team manager should ensure that tangents do not happen and skilfully bring the meeting back on course.

c. When the "dominator" throws in an idea or a suggestion then the team manager should probe as to what is behind the suggestion, how it fits with the agenda, and what desired outcomes they desire. The team manager can then ask the team for their comments and thoughts on it. Do not agree with the dominator before the other contributions!

d. If the "dominator" continues to attempt to control the meeting, then at the next break take them aside and give them the constructive feedback that they deserve! They must be told of the negative impact of their interventions.

The "You Owe Me" or "Spoon Fed" Individuals - These people think that the company they work for owes them in terms of a job, a decent wage, and good working conditions. In many ways they act like "spoilt brats" and expect everything to be done for them. They take a negative approach and will complain at the slightest change in company policy. Examples include the company car policy, lunch allowances, pensions, entertainment budgets and holiday entitlements. This has resulted in many cases due to people becoming too comfortable because of reduced responsibility. In other words, it is due to bad or mediocre performance management by team managers themselves!

The team manager can handle the "you owe mes” through vigilance and intolerance. Vigilance, by closely monitoring performance against agreed performance objectives and intolerance in terms of ensuring that these objectives are not so easily achievable that the person is not stretched. Too often team members get by by doing the minimum when really, they should have to work to hit objectives. Only by having stretching objectives will they ever perform at the highest level. Rewards that are given must be for achievement and not for simply "turning up".

The "Saboteur" or "Dark Angel" -There will be on occasion times when the team manager will have to deal with the "saboteur". This is the team member who tells you one thing and then does another. Or tells the team one thing and then tells you another. They are out to split the team and perhaps create a division between the team manager and the rest of the team. Sometimes they can pick on individuals. Perhaps they see these individuals as a threat and as such start to spread rumours about them, or worse, sneak to the boss to tell them when the person has made a mistake. Even worse than that is to tell lies about them or about what they have done or not done!

There is only one way to deal with " Dark Angel Saboteurs". Firstly, establish exactly what the truth is. Once this is established and that you are 100% certain in your facts, and that you have found out that the "saboteur" has been at work, then confront them and start the disciplinary process. Sounds harsh? It is and deserves to be. Teams cannot sustain saboteurs and the saboteur must know how destructive their behaviours are. They also must know what the consequences of their behaviours are in relation to the team. This sort of behaviour cannot be tolerated.

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