Well-working teams are capable of getting enormous amounts of work done, under tight deadlines, and to a large extent are able to manage themselves with minimal supervision and guidance. They share a goal of being successful, solving the company’s IT problems, and providing users with what they need.
Toxic teams don’t get more than the minimum required work completed, and a tight deadline can send them into complete meltdown. Managers have to constantly stay on top of them to get anything accomplished, and there is absolutely no sense of sharing a goal or purpose. The users are viewed as a nuisance and catering to them is the last thing on the toxic team’s mind.
Is your team in the first group or the second? Here’s how to identify a toxic team, what the possible causes are, and most importantly, how you — the IT service desk manager — can turn a toxic team around.
How to Identify a Toxic Service Desk Team
Sometimes a toxic team develops as a result of a single toxic worker, or perhaps a handful of bad apples. Other times, toxicity develops as a result of a single event or series of events that puts everyone on edge, makes them defensive, and leads to poor relationships. Signs that your team has turned toxic include:
- Low productivity (or a sudden drop in productivity)
- Low morale
- Frequent arguments (as opposed to agreeable disagreements)
- Negative attitudes, comments, or personal attacks
- Lots of gossip and rumors circulating
- Workers have no interest in doing anything extra and won’t help each other out
- Nobody is willing to share ideas or participate in meetings or projects
- The team has a bad attitude about even positive changes
- An uptick in the number of illnesses and absences (workers sometimes develop “illnesses” to avoid landing in toxic situations)
The Causes of a Toxic Service Desk Team
If you see these behaviors, you’ll want to identify why it’s happening, because that can direct your actions to resolve the situation. Some reasons why teams turn toxic include:
- A worker or workers who won’t share information with the others on the team
- A worker or workers who loose their cool and blow up
- A worker or workers who continually berate, bully, or intimidate others on the team
- Poor team leadership (The manager isn’t stopping the bad behavior)
How to Address a Toxic Service Desk Team
If you’ve identified your team as toxic, how can you resolve the situation? The first step is to set your determination that you can and will fix it. The second step is to address the situation head-on and establish appropriate guidelines for behavior and consequences for failing to adhere to those guidelines.
Unfortunately, few IT professionals have the skills necessary to address feelings and attitudes. All you have to work with is the ability to change behaviors, and you can. When it comes time to address the team, you can do so privately with the person or persons responsible, or you can do so publicly with everyone involved. The important things to remember are:
- You need to acknowledge that you recognize the situation and are here to address it.
- You need to take responsibility for your part (failing to manage wisely or allowing bad behavior, etc.)
- You need to make it clear what is and what isn’t acceptable behavior for service desk team members.
- You need to outline exactly what you expect to see and what you will not tolerate from now on.
How you do this is up to you, the team manger. If the situation is mildly toxic, you might be able to send a firmly-worded email to the team. When the situation has deteriorated to moderately or severely toxic, you might consider holding an offsite meeting or bringing in a third-party (such as a higher-level manager or a professional counselor) to make it clear what behaviors are acceptable and which are not. In the most severe cases, it might be necessary to dismiss or reassign an employee or employees who refuse to modify their behavior in order to foster a healthy team environment.
Foster an environment where workers aren’t afraid to make normal mistakes, so that they are willing to share ideas and work towards common goals. Also, be sure that exceptional work is rewarded. These two things can boost morale tremendously, helping turn your toxic team into cooperative, productive worker bees
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