A Caution to Managers When Dealing With Disruptive Team Members

No headless business man
If you have experienced one of these people working in your team, you will know what kind of damage they can cause. In my experience, I have seen two types of disruptive team members.

There are those who just behave in a way that makes it hard for everyone else to work in a collaborative fashion. The second type are a little more dangerous. They go about their disruptive behaviour in a very underhanded manner.

Whether you are working in a team inside a large organisation, or working in a team in a smaller sized business, the same fundamental rule applies. One person can cause a lot of damage to smoothly operating and highly effective team.

I know of one Okanagan employer who was building a very successful business and over the course of 5 years, he had to deal with two of these people who slipped under the radar and entered his company causing a huge amount of strife.

The biggest danger these people can cause mostly goes unseen. Both of these bad hires were very effective at creating negative sentiment towards the company for a considerable amount of time without his knowledge. In the first instance, the team leader was undermining the direction of the company by giving instructions to the team contradictory to previously defined goals. In this case, the behaviour was discovered much earlier than the second instance.

In the second instance, a number of years later, the bad hire spent most of her time undermining the manager as a whole. It was later uncovered, this team member had slowly spent her time to turn the team against the manager based on their workplace agreements. The manager was dealt a heavy blow as the team demanded massive wage increases and even larger demands on the workplace agreement that had been place for some time.

Having the skill to notice that changes in attitude that are underfoot should be high on any managers lists of things they need to pay attention to.

The buildup of negative sentiment and the underhanded attack on the manager was planned long in advance. He said himself, he should have implemented measures to check on the moral of the team.

The only solution available in these two situations was to remove the toxic employee. If he had done so earlier, he would have saved a lot of time and energy. His failure in this case, which destroyed a great deal of the company’s positive culture, was not detecting this undercover disruptive team member earlier.

Some People Are Very Good at Influencing Others —
The Most Common Type of Disruptive Team Member

The other type of disruptive team member is one who goes about their work in a very manipulative manner. They are often more concerned about their own success in the team and not the part they play in the team’s success. We see these people on the sports fields all the time. They are very good at presenting themselves to people of importance. They are very good at highlighting their importance. In actual fact, these types of people reduce the effectiveness of the team as a whole. They feed off the team and attempt to use the team for their own career benefit.

The consequences of not dealing with disruptive employees are quite significant. Immediate action to determine the cause, and then to terminate either the behaviour or the employee, is critical.

What happens when bad hires are left untreated?

  • You lose productivity. It’s pretty obvious from the examples provided, damage caused by the disruptive person will reduce the productivity of the team.
  • You open yourself to attack. Negative employees can and often spread their negative attitude to other employees. This can result in very serious consequences, such as all out revolt.
  • A bad hire is often more expensive than most employers are willing to admit. The disruptive employee is far more costly than simply someone who is not fit for the job.

Hiring talented people is a tricky business. Some of the most intelligent can be some of the most manipulative. My team at Ashton & Associates is experienced and have a number of tools to help you weed out those who will damage your business and those who will truly be an asset.


Barbara Ashton is the President and Founder of Ashton & Associates Recruiting.

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This post has been approved for public release by Barbara Ashton. All certified posts carry this Google Authorship link to Google.