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One of these 4 types of workers could be ruining your teams

Here’s how to spot them, and how to deal with them.

One of these 4 types of workers could be ruining your teams
[Source photo: an_vision/Unsplash]

We know it’s easier for people to be happy at work when team dynamics are healthy. Science tells us that happy teams are more productive and effective, that people within them tend to stick around for longer, and the companies they work for are more successful.

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Perfect. That settles it. Let’s all just agree to be healthier teammates then. The reality is, it’s not that simple. Building and maintaining high-performing teams is a constant challenge. It’s become even more complex during the past couple of years, as the stress and ongoing uncertainty of living through a pandemic amplified many of the underlying issues that have always jeopardized team health.  

And to any leaders reading this: You’re not going to solve it with good, old-fashioned company policy. This kind of cultural change unfortunately doesn’t call for a shiny new transformation program, a fictitious utopian end state that we can cut the ribbon on and form an office conga line. 

Healthy and high-functioning team cultures aren’t built by policy but by people: people with healthy attitudes about their work and its challenges. It’s a tablespoon of psychological safety, a pinch of authentic and open ways of working, and a healthy sprinkling of respectful dissent. 

And if it’s our people who are so integral to this equation, why would you let your efforts be derailed by individuals who can’t or don’t want to put the team’s needs first?

We care intimately about how teams work effectively at Atlassian. So, we decided to re-launch our State of Teams research and assess team health, delving deeper into what makes and what stops high-functioning teams from being effective.

What we uncovered were four culprits who could be ruining your company culture and team health from within. A team of saboteurs whose sole purpose is to wreak havoc on collaboration and creativity. And, admittedly, I know this sounds terrifying. But I can assure you there is a fix. 

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The bad apple

A worrying 26% of workers say there’s a bad apple on their team. That’s a quarter of modern teams, which in non-mathematical terms means a huge headache for leaders. With all of the work we go through hiring capable people and onboarding them, and all of the systems we put in place to empower our employees, still over a quarter are having their mojo, engagement, and efficiency impacted?

These bad apples bring a toxic attitude that drags down team morale. They dodge responsibilities and violate interpersonal norms, pretending to play devil’s advocate just for the fun of derailing other people’s ideas. They’re also always right, because colleagues smile and nod to avoid confrontation. 

And while all of our minds wander to that one bullish colleague, it’s worth noting that 14% reported that their manager was the bad apple, creating a culture of negativity and passive aggressiveness that trickles down from the very top of the organization.

Individuals who reported working with this type of negative person were less likely to be engaged and had a worse perception of their team’s culture. They were also more likely to leave their organization because of it. 

What you can do: First, it’s time to evaluate your team. Take a hard look at each individual to understand not just what they’re contributing, but how they’re doing it. At Atlassian, we run what’s called a team health monitor. It is an honest and sometimes confronting look in the mirror, assessing dysfunctional teams against eight attributes common in healthier teams, almost always walking away with a plan to address weak spots. 

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To leaders I ask, “Do you find your other employees voluntarily working with a specific employee, or avoiding them where possible?” From there, leaders can create a set of working agreements that clearly define what their teammates expect of each other. This creates a more cohesive environment and helps to stop the rot from setting in.

Nothing will trigger a Great Resignation like a bad apple. The people who leave will be the good ones. The office you’re left with will resemble something closer to an orchard. 

The human torch

We all wanted to believe that work-life balance was getting back to normal, but despite teams reporting higher levels of psychological safety and less struggle in their teamwork, individuals have been significantly more likely to report symptoms of burnout over the last six months. Twenty eight percent of respondents are now reporting symptoms.

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Human torches burn bright, but quickly burn out. We emerged from the hybrid experiment intact and with deeper senses of connection among colleagues, but we did so at the expense of our personal health. 

There are likely more of these people in your business than you think, with the stress of long hours and pandemic-induced anxiety still an issue for many workers. Some managers are making a bad situation worse, talking a good game about work-life balance but expecting responses to late night and weekend requests. 

What you can do: If you’re a manager, think about whether you’re sending mixed signals to your direct reports. Do you mean it when you advocate for better work-life balance? Take time to understand how the pandemic and related upheaval have impacted the lives of people on your team, and then help them design an ideal workweek. This should strike a balance between working in the office with working from home, allowing adequate time for team collaboration and personal focus.

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The false positive

These team members will go along just to get along. In stark contrast to the bad apples, who go out of their way to be contrarian, the false positives will agree with anything that makes life easier. They mistake conformity for cohesion, offering smiles and nods that ensure they don’t rock the boat. In our research, members of highly connected teams say their teams are 9% less likely to come up with fresh ideas.

In reality, it’s through spirited conversation, debate, and yes, even argument, that real ideas come out and better decisions are made. Rainbows, harmony, unanimous agreement, and applause sounds really lovely, but they’re not exactly conducive to new ideas and innovation.

And to any bad apples reading this, always remember: The emphasis in respectful dissent is always on respectful.

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What you can do: It’s impossible to get the best out of your team without healthy debate and respectful disagreement. So, actively encourage sparring between team members and make a habit of getting together to make it better before marking a task as done. My simple question to any business leader is this: Do you feel you’ve created a culture of respectful dissent and creative conflict in your teams? And if you ask your employees and 100% of the room agrees simultaneously, that should probably raise an alarm. 

The flight risk

More than one in four leaders (28%) has recently thought about quitting. Many are exhausted after guiding their teams through the extended uncertainty of the pandemic. Flight risks feel under-appreciated and less engaged in their work. This lack of energy is starting to rub off on those around them, creating an uneasy atmosphere.

It’s particularly concerning that this is starting at the top. We found managers were significantly more likely to want to quit over the past three months. And while we may not have all the answers as to why, flight-risk leadership creates a culture of unease that trickles down throughout the entire workforce. 

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What you can do: If this sounds like you, it’s time to take a deep breath and invest in some self-care before you make a break for the exit. Reflect on what you love, loathe, and long for as a leader. And if your daily schedule is stressing you out, run a meeting audit with your team to see which ones can be improved or canceled.

I’m sure you recognize at least one of these culprits in your team, but all is not lost. Get the issues out in the open, remembering that these team members may not realize that they’re doing harm, and make a call on whether you can change attitudes and behaviors. Leaders that are thriving and building great, sustainable teams are having that dialogue with them. Remember that even the best teams aren’t perfect. There is no such thing as best practice, only better practice. Reflect often, experiment, and explore. 


Dom Price is the resident Work Futurist at Atlassian, a global collaboration and productivity software company.

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