How to deal with negative team members

There’s usually at least one in every workplace; the person who is known for spreading negativity and doubt amongst their peers.

Negative team members thrive on negative work talk and are always the first ones to grab people in the hallway or in the kitchen to share their caustic commentary and criticise the organisation and its people. In general, you’ll never please the negative team members.

Effective leaders can however, stop these people before they do any more damage to morale. You’ll want to nip this in the bud before the team’s working environment and productivity levels are threatened.

In the ideal world, you’d have a culture of motivated people, after making the right hiring choices and creating a positive environment of acceptable behaviours, but more often than not, it’s not the case. These tips can help you to identify and remedy the effects of the negative team members.

  1. Set expectations

    Set and communicate accepted workplace behaviour. These need to be agreed by the team and become part of a team’s values or culture. If you haven’t created these yet, ask your people to suggest, using the organisations values as a guide, the values they believe a healthy work environment needs.

  2. Observe and engage

    Get close to your team and observe their behaviours. Often negative team members succeed in teams where managers are removed from the everyday workings of the team. Observing what is happening arms you with the knowledge to know what needs to be solved.

  3. Seek team input

    Ask people what they feel about the work environment on a regular basis. This doesn’t give the negative team members much time to infiltrate the team and spread negativity if you are checking in to see if everything is okay. Use 1:1 meetings, informal catch ups, as well as formal surveys and reviews.

  4. Offer feedback

    Take the time to take the person concerned aside and provide feedback on their behaviour. Start by letting them know just how they are affecting the team and how destructive this is. Link their behaviour to performance, morale and the job satisfaction and enjoyment of their colleagues. Focus on positive ways they can use their keen eye to proactively influence the workplace in the right way.

  5. Escalate when required

    If the above techniques fail, it could be time to escalate the issue. This means moving from a coaching approach i.e. offering guidance and actionable feedback, to more of a counselling approach, which tells the person their behaviour is unacceptable and outlines the implications of not changing their approach. This may include presenting the option of a performance improvement programme.

  6. Exit plan

    If things simply aren’t getting better, then following the above processes and working closely with your Human Resources team start to look at a moral and legal plan that sees this person leave the business. You owe this to your people, yourself and the future success of your workplace.

Author: Peter Robinson
Team Leadership Services