Dealing with Toxic Team Members in 4 Easy Steps

How to identify Toxic team members

Every environment has toxic team members, whether corporate or social. However, there is a difference between difficult team members and toxic team members. A toxic team member is anyone who is abusive, unsupportive, or unhealthy emotionally—someone who basically brings you down more than up.

There is always that one person on your team who has nothing positive to say, riles up other team members, and makes work life horrible.

If you can’t fire them, how do you deal with their behavior?

What feedback do you give? How do you mitigate the damage they inflict?

There’s a pattern of de-energizing, frustrating or putting down teammates,

according to Christine Porath, an associate professor at Georgetown and the author of Mastering Civility: A Manifesto for the Workplace.

Five kinds of Toxic Teams

Toxic team members are in the habit of making every situation worse than it already is and desensitize their teammate’s feelings or thoughts. This behavior usually distracts the team from their goals.

The goal, of course, is to unlock the promises of team dynamics: better decisions, increased productivity, more innovation and higher levels of engagement.

According to Liane Davey, an organizational psychologist and consultant, a toxic team can be fixed, and anybody on the team can fix it, even without the initial support of the team leader or peers. In her latest book, You First: Inspire Your Team to Grow Up, Get Along, and Get Stuff Done,  Davey explains that there are five kinds of toxic teams:

  • The Crisis Junkie Team—stalled by unclear priorities and lack of role clarity, this team lurches along until a crisis forces it to unite around a common goal.
  • The Bobble Head Team—amalgamated by shared values and perspectives, this team maintains harmony at the cost of little innovation.
  • The Spectator Team—fragmented by team members who have “checked out”, this team sinks into apathy.
  • The Bleeding Back Team—plagued by underground conflict and personal histories, this team keeps the peace in public but fights in private.
  • The Royal Rumble Team—scarred by attacks and emotional outbursts, this team swings back and forth without ever moving forward.

We’ve all experienced these types of teams at some point, and have never know how best to deal with toxic behaviors. Most of the time people don’t realize that they’re destructive.

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How to deal with Toxic Team Members:

  • Make sure all feedback is direct

Toxic team members are occasionally ignorant to their behaviors and to the effects they have on others. They are usually defensive and quick to respond when questioned on certain things.

Discuss what kind of behavior you’d expect to see instead and develop an improvement plan with the employee.

What do you expect them to change?

Strive for clearly defined, measurable goals. This allows the team members to have a positive impact on their peers.

  • Be clear about the consequences

People tend to respond more strongly to potential losses than they do to potential gains, so it’s important to show offenders what they stand to lose if they don’t improve.

Toxic team members need to be made aware of the results that come from their actions.

For example, if a team member says something out of line to a peer a warning letter must be issued. This should also be communicated prior to any conflict.

  • Understand your team members individually

Take time to see how each of your team members function. Comprehend your team members individually and see what makes them tick. This allows you to find a compromise or solution to any rising conflict.

For instance, knowing that team member X does not like taking much will help you navigate a way around them without infringing on their work or how they interact with others.

  • Separate the toxic from the non-toxic

Even if you can’t get rid of a bad apple, you can isolate it from the rest of the bushel so the rot doesn’t spread. People close to a toxic employee are more likely to become toxic themselves, but the good news is that the risk also subsides quickly.

Principles to live by;


  • Speak with the person to try to understand what’s causing the behavior.
  • Give concrete, specific feedback and offer the opportunity to change.
  • Look for ways to minimize interactions between the toxic employee and the rest of your team.


  • Bring the situation up with your other team members. Allow them to mention it first and then provide suggestions.
  • Try to dismiss the person unless you’ve documented the behavior, its impact, and your response.
  • Get so wrapped up in handling the issue that you ignore more important work and responsibilities.

Behavior in an organization is a key element to note. It affects many areas either negatively or positively, so just make sure that you understand your team.

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