Today’s best business leaders understand the vital importance of creating a positive team culture that supports excellence, risk-taking and fair play. Yet what if you end up in an environment where the opposite is true? For the modern HR leader, what are the signs that a team has turned toxic – and how might you step in and help to find a cure?

Caution: Saboteurs ahead

As Glassdoor’s Abby Churnow-Chavez writes, there are various signs of ill health within a team. The team’s studies suggest that in the very worst cases, your culture may literally be tearing itself apart from the inside. “We named the worst of the worst Saboteur Teams because, on them, someone is always working against at least one of their teammates.”

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A team at war

Warning signs of Saboteur Teams include suspicion, mistrust – and members openly complaining about one another. Or, indeed, spending as much time watching their backs as actually doing productive work. In such teams, destructive behaviour is rife: “Teammates would be pleased to see others on the team fail,” she writes. “They criticize and point out the faults and failures of fellow team members.” In this environment, morale will suffer, good people will quit, and risk-taking and innovation will plummet.

Look for the signs

As consultant Mark Weston of Arcadia Culture tells PageGroup, the signs that a team culture may be broken are typically evident from closely observing the team. “This is displayed behaviourally in many different ways – such as blame, low levels of morale and a general non-resourceful pessimistic behaviour.”

Start with the manager

When an HR leader is confronted by a cloud of negativity over a team, where should they first look? Weston suggests that the natural port of call is first to the leader. “For me, it’s all about whether that leader shows competency and willingness to change,” Weston says. Showing a bias towards a growth or learning mindset is a helpful filter, he says – as this provides you with a sense that the person is open and motivated to learn.

Change the language

For the practitioner who is dealing with the opposite, a fixed mindset state, the process is one of communication – and addressing preconceived notions that may have gone unchallenged a long while: “Everything starts with the assessment of the current state,” he explains. “Years and years of programming have built our ‘self-talk’. And so this needs rewiring – and replacement language needs installing.”

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Grab the purpose and run

After this, work on rebuilding the team can begin. “It comes back to having a common purpose and direction – and to the installation of trust,” says Weston. “Having a low self-interest will help, coupled with a smart and giving mentality.”

Take the time

Typically in a change-management process, how much of a leader’s time needs to be devoted to group communication – and do many leaders generally underestimate this?

“Leaders’ motivations tend to wain through change,” Weston cautions. “The outside environment tends to dictate internal levels of security,” he notes.

Team roles for success

An important factor becomes, is there a clear shared mission for moving forward? “The purpose is all-important, followed by creating a clear and compelling picture of the desired future state,” Weston advises. “Everyone needs to know the strategies to drive the change and the part they individually play in it.”

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