Personal Growth

5 People From Teamwork Hell

March 29, 2021
3 min read
John Neary

All Relationships Present Challenges. Building A Productive And Supportive Team At Work Isn't Easy. Learn More.

I’ve been fortunate to work with wonderful people throughout my career. However, no workplace is perfect. The flawed characters we work with inspired me to share this post, along with some advice on how to avoid or change the corresponding poor behaviors. Here's hoping you DON'T recognize any of the following . . .

Captain Defensive: We’ve all experienced mistakes that required teamwork to correct. No one wants to be on the same team as they person who can’t help but remain fixated on proving his or her innocence in the matter. The same person usually considers the mistake corrected when some ‘culprit’ has been found (regardless of whether the actual mistake has been fixed or any learning has occurred). This behavior is dysfunctional in many ways. First, it distracts the team from the immediate problem. Second, it draws out the process of learning from the situation (sometimes in an exhausting fashion). Third, it contributes to an unsafe culture where intelligent failure isn’t tolerated . . . If fellow team members think it is unsafe to fail they will shy away from risk and will likely mistrust Mr. or Ms. Defensive.

Catch yourself early if you are prone to defensiveness. Standing up for yourself is one thing, but putting yourself before the team is another. Is your line of question focused on understanding the situation? Are you taking time to listen to others? Focus on the pure opportunity to learn from the situation and support whoever you need to in the process. As an aside, you may need their support in return some day.

The Politician: For this person, it’s always about the angle and never about the team. How will a situation make them look? How will a decision affect their alignment with a key leader? How can they use their position to undermine a peer? How can they position themselves close enough to the work to enjoy credit for successes, but far enough away to easily apportion blame should failure ensue? How can they manage the perception their boss has of other people? How can they control the flow of information?The list goes on. This person delights in manufacturing and planting sound-bites that may serve to further their personal agenda. For companies hoping to evolve while enabling great people, this person is a nightmare. They destroy creativity, demoralize talented people, and steer major projects based on their own ambitions rather than the needs of the company.

Rise above. Just stay focused on the work. Stay objective and keep discussions centered on merits, not emotions. Great leaders will weed out politicians. If that’s not happening, you may be in the wrong culture. But have faith; politicians usually end up being seen for who they are.

Mr. Knowledge Hoarder:This person has been there for a long time and has accumulated vast amounts of knowledge. So far, so good. The problem is that they severely limit knowledge sharing because they see work as a zero-sum game.If they share information with you, then you become more valuable and (in their world) they therefore becomes less valuable. This warped way of thinking is common and sometimes enabled by poor leadership who may fail to see the risk of being dependent on a single person. No team or company should be overly reliant on one person. No healthy culture associates job security with knowledge hoarding. When the expert doesn’t want to share, he becomes unapproachable and resented by the team.

Develop expertise, but never lose sight of your place in the bigger picture. It is a privilege to be able to educate and help others. Use your expertise responsibly and your rewards will be far greater than if you chose the path of the hoarder. If you see hoarding elsewhere, raise the risk of dependency in an objective manner. Help correct the situation where possible.

The Negative Nelly:Constantly sowing seeds of discontent, this person would very much like you to share in their misery. Even a brief elevator ride with this person can be utterly exhausting. Devoid of ownership of their situation, the Negative Nelly will constantly look outward to find the cause of his or her problems. Nellies are not interested in offering ideas for improvement, only in pointing out how bad they perceive things to be. The Negative Nelly refuses to resign, opting instead to stay and make the environment as miserable as possible for those who remain.

By all means, have a bad day. No workplace is perfect. But please move on from frustrating experiences and try to remain positive. It can't be that bad if you're still there. Focus on what you can do to drive improvement, in both your culture and in your products/services. Lead with solutions where possible. Set a good example for others by focusing on what's going well, and what you can do to make things better.

Drama Queen (or King): This person goes to great lengths to avoid discussing actual work.Instead, rumors are initiated, speculations are made, and drama ensues. They will suck valuable time away from unsuspecting co-workers.Unfortunately, the Drama Queen/King can sometimes be entertaining, so you may find yourself tempted to participate. Don’t. Enabling drama is almost as bad as initiating it.Try to keep your team and workplace focused on delivering exceptional work while working together harmoniously and constructively. Support each other and politely shut down conversations that attack the character or ability of a peer.

At the very least, don’t initiate rumors or speculate. Remain objective and focus first on the work. When confronted with drama, try to redirect the conversation before the gossip takes shape. Look for key statements like “Don’t tell anyone, but…” and “It’s not my place to say this, but…” These feigned disclaimers are simply an opportunity for you to assert yourself as a better team player.


So, what characters here can you relate to?  Are there other characters in YOUR top 5?

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John Neary
John is the founder of Right Workplace and maintains heavy involvement in the Company to this day. He has a passion for workplace culture, and the benefits a healthy culture can bestow on professionals everywhere.

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