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06 Nov 2023

How To Avoid Toxic Team Culture And Cultivate High Performing Teams

Building a high performing team is a challenge manyorganizations face. However, one of the keys to success is creating a positiveteam culture and avoiding the pitfalls of toxicity. A dysfunctional environmentcan seriously hamper productivity, collaboration and employee motivation andsatisfaction. In this blog, we will discuss some effective strategies torecognize signs of a toxic culture and instead cultivate one marked by traitslike trust, strong communication and psychological safety. Adopting thesepractices can help transform teams from disjointed groups to powerful unitsworking together interdependently to achieve great results.

Recognize The Signs Of A Toxic Team Culture

The first step to building a better culture is recognizingwhen the existing one is toxic or dysfunctional. Some common signs includemembers constantly feeling stressed, dissatisfied and drained after teaminteractions. There may be high attrition rates as people quickly leave, or aclimate of fear where people are hesitant to speak up. Teams with toxicityissues often lack collaboration and have strong undercurrents of conflict,siloing and "us vs them" attitudes developing between members. Peoplespend more time playing blame games or seeking credit instead of focusing onthe work. The overall environment will be one of distrust, anxiety and lowmorale rather than one filled with positivity, support and goodwill.

Recognizing interpersonal problems is also important. Teamsstruggling with toxicity tend to have detrimental personality clashes,unchecked gossiping, members constantly critical of each other's work orpersonal attacks under the guise of "feedback". The lack of respect,empathy and consideration for others seriously hampers cohesiveness.Micro-management, ambiguous responsibilities and unrealisticdeadlines/workloads imposed by leadership without consultation are otherdysfunctional patterns that create an unhealthy dynamic over time. It is vitalto catch these signs early on before they escalate and damage workingrelationships irreparably.

Role Model The Behaviors You Want To See

Leaders play a big role in shaping the cultural norms withina team. If management wants behaviors like collaboration, supportiveness andpositivity to thrive, they need to exemplify these consistently themselves. Itstarts with small acts - being attentive listeners, giving credit to others forsuccesses, treating all team members with equal respect. Leaders must checkunprofessional outbursts and criticism in meetings, and foster an atmospherewhere people feel safe speaking up. They can encourage vulnerability byadmitting faults and requesting feedback to improve. Role modeling opencommunication and resolving conflicts respectfully also teaches others tohandle disagreements constructively.

Leaders also need to push beyond just words and back theirdesired culture with actions. They should make themselves accessible andapproachable so team members are comfortable sharing ideas and challenges. Itmeans prioritizing employee well-being over unrealistic deadlines sometimes.Performance reviews and promotions should reward those championingcollaborative spirit over self-promoters. This accountability creates buy-infrom others to emulate the model behaviors their managers authenticallyexemplify on a regular basis.

Build Trust Between Team Members

Building trust among team members requires sincere effortsfrom all individuals. One way to start is by having more informal socialinteractions so people can connect beyond just work talks. Organizing periodicteam lunches, after-work gatherings or fun activities helps members see eachother as human beings rather than just colleagues. Being generous with praiseand credit for others' contributions even in their absence also breeds trust.People need to openly share not just struggles but also personal life updatesto let their guards down. Team bonds strengthen as members gain insight intoeach other on deeper levels than superficial interactions.

Trust is also maintained through transparency andtruthfulness. Members must keep their word, either by delivering on commitmentson time or giving advance notice if delays are unavoidable. Honest feedback,even if critical, is valued more than avoidant behavior that breeds suspicion.Teams where people are comfortable admitting mistakes without fear ofrecrimination tend to be more cohesive as well. Regular check-ins and clarityon roles fosters interdependence among members as they learn they can rely oneach other for support in their respective areas. This collaboration furthersolidifies trusting relationships over time.

Improve Communication Norms

Effective communication is essential for any team tofunction optimally. Establishing clear norms and standards can help improve howinformation flows within the group. These include deciding on preferred modesof communication - whether email, messaging apps, or video calls for differentpurposes. Equally important is setting guidelines around responsiveness - howquickly members should respond to discussion threads or inform others ofunavailability. Team agreements on regular touchpoints like stand-ups orcollaborative documents ensure everyone stays on the same page.

Impartial facilitation of discussions and decisions alsostrengthens communication. Using tools that record meeting minutes relievesbias and provides a factual resource. Leaders should encourage equal airtimeand respectful listening during debates. Concerns raised anonymously could beaddressed as well to give voice to all. Agreeing on an escalation processprevents bottlenecks from miscommunications. Norms are fruitfully reviewed withmember inputs to refine them as needs change. Regular checkpoints maintainaccountability for effective information sharing that engages the entire team.

Cultivate Psychological Safety

For any team to function at its best, members must feelcomfortable taking risks and learning from mistakes in a non-threateningenvironment. Leaders play a pivotal role in ensuring psychological safetybecomes an inherent part of the team culture. They should welcome differentperspectives and opinions instead of appear threatened. Mistakes should beviewed as learning opportunities rather than failures. Team agreements ofzero-tolerance for public shaming, criticism or ridicule of others establishrespect as the foundation of all interactions.

Certain ground rules also help create psychological safety.These include policies around confidentiality where sensitive feedback or ideasshared internally does not leave the team. Members should feel heard withoutjudgment and that speaking up will not have hidden or unintended consequenceson their careers. Lighthearted humor and humble inquiries during conflictsprevent defensiveness from sabotaging resolution. An attitude of generosityrather than scarcity further assures people their efforts benefit the wholeversus a select few. This secure climate ultimately allows teams to take boldrisks and embrace challenges with courage and resilience.


Taking a proactive approach to evaluate team culture andaddressing any issues that arise early on is important for long-term success.Leaders play a vital role in modeling constructive behaviors and prioritizingan atmosphere where people feel respected, engaged and able to contribute fullywithout fear. Implementing agreed upon norms around communication, conflictresolution and feedback can also reinforce cultural change. With continualefforts to bring out the best in one another through trust and support, teamshave the potential to achieve extraordinary outcomes together far beyond whatindividuals could accomplish alone. Focusing on these aspects of culturedevelopment can make a world of difference for high performance, jobsatisfaction and organizational effectiveness over the long run.

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