How to destroy your team – lessons from an expert

by | Sep 11, 2019

How to destroy your team in a few easy steps – lessons from an expert

I’ll openly admit this story wasn’t one of my career highlights, but when you’re in a the midst of a nightmare I do believe it’s how you show up and what you learn from it that really matters.

My team was growing. I’d secured a decent budget and hired three new team members to keep up with the demands on our time and expertise. We were going global. Their CVs were amazing and they talked the talk at interview. Now we’d really make an impact.

But the niggles in my mind were there as soon as they’d joined, if I’m honest. I hadn’t trusted my instincts at the interviews. I needed to manage the increasing workload. But I ignored the attitude warning bells as I was more keen to hire quickly, to take the pressure off the rest of my team and really up our game.

I took a lot of time to onboard and integrate the new members. Doing all the right things to get the new staff up to speed and make them feel welcome. We had weekly one-to-ones and team calls. I assigned them a buddy each. And of course, we had team and personal goals all aligned to help us realise our strategy. It was textbook.

As the months went on I bluffed myself into thinking we were a cohesive, high-performing team. I had the odd bit of disgruntled feedback from our internal customers, but I put it down to new relationships being built and convinced myself that time would improve things.

But more and more tasks were slipping. Excuses were being made. Sick-days were increasing as my best team members took the flack and overcompensated. Pointed comments were aired. And there was a definite uneasy atmosphere brewing in our team calls.

Then the sh#t hit the fan.

It was like dominoes falling out of control.

First, at our quarterly off-site face-to-face meeting we were going to make the last strides towards pulling off a big project. But as I went through the project plan, excuse after excuse came from the newest team members. One walked out in a drama of tears. I knew we’d not pull things back on track in time now. How could this be happening?

Then I took a call from a concerned colleague saying she’d heard rumours of bullying in my team and thought I should know. Jeez! Bullying in my team? Under my lead? That kind of environment was the polar opposite of what I had prided myself on creating.

If that wasn’t enough, that same evening I bumped into a senior leader whom we supported and they really let me know how they felt. No holding back. They wanted a change in designated support. They’d had enough. And they wanted me to finally deal with the poor attitude and performance they’d been telling me about.

What the hell had happened? How had I ignored the signs? How had I not dealt with the instincts I’d felt. Or the poor performance that was staring me in the face?

In truth, and with a lot of self-reflection, I realised I had wanted to be liked, to be seen as a good person, so I’d shied away from conflict. I didn’t want to challenge the ‘more experienced experts’ that I’d hired in the fear that they might leave. I was actually worried about what they thought about me. I had put them on a pedestal and undervalued myself. I had wanted to create a happy environment where we were ‘all friends’ and supported one another. But who was managing who here? And what was the personal impact on those who were performing well, getting on with everything despite my lack of leadership?

To cut a long story short (and get to the point here!), within a month of the utterly sh#t face-to-face team meeting, I had fired the worst performer (they weren’t UK-based just FYI) and had two resignations on the back of doing so. So all three new hires were gone. And we were back to square one. Fabulous! (and that’s said with utter sarcasm by the way!)

I learnt a lot of lessons from that nightmare. It forms the basis of some of the advice I give to my clients. Making sure others don’t make the same mistakes that I did. Helping them create great places to work where their staff can truly thrive. Helping them see the consequence of their actions (which often come from a place of good intent, I may add).

My advice for creating a happy, healthy team culture?

  • Hire for attitude, because you can train for everything else
  • Trust your instincts and be curious to find out more about what’s working well and what’s not
  • Manage poor performance – it’s a gift to help others improve or find a better career path
  • Actively lookout for good performance and reward it
  • Value yourself and your experience
  • Be a great leader, not a friend as a boss – you’ll earn greater respect
  • Listen openmindedly and objectively to team and customer feedback – it’s a gift to yourself
  • Admit your mistakes and communicate openly and honestly
  • Don’t shy away from decisions or giving feedback just because it feels difficult or uncomfortable – there’s much more discomfort if things aren’t dealt with

You’ll be pleased to know that from that dark time onwards, things shone brightly for me and my team.

I changed how I recruited and hired some inspiring talent with superb attitudes to work and collaboration. I listened to our customers, winning our leaders round with our expertise, attitude and support to rebuild our reputation. I took a deep look inside myself and defined how I wanted to lead, honing my listening skills and honest voice which both serve me so very well in my business today.

I don’t suspect anyone reading this really wants to air their sh#tty experiences here on LinkedIn, but if you have some great words of wisdom or lessons to share here to help others create happy, healthy work culture, I’d love to hear them (feel free to message me directly).

Here’s to working in great workplaces from now on!

First posted on LinkedIn

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