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Is there some unhelpful behaviour going on in your team right now? If there is, or if there was, how did you choose to respond to it? How long was it left in the hope that it would get better on its own?

In the words of Benjamin Franklin, the rotten apple spoils his companion. He was referencing Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew, where Hortensio says there’s small choice in rotten apples.

Pulling up poor behaviour can be one of the most difficult things a manager faces. Some tell me it’s the fear of conflict, not wanting to offend, but there’s almost always a hidden reason at play.

You see, it takes a lot of energy to hold the space, provide objective feedback, engage in the conversation and manage the aftermath, and if you are stressed, overwhelmed, worn out by work or what’s going on at home, not confronting the poor behaviour is simply an act of self-preservation.

the ugly consequences

So what are the consequences of ignoring poor behaviour at work? Well, the most obvious is that productivity will go down, not just in relation to the problem employee, but also, the team members who are watching the badly behaved employee act out and get away with it.

There will be the ‘Did you see that?’ chats amongst coworkers. The ‘Why should I go all out when no one else is’ conversations. It’s incredible how one person, behaving badly quickly morphs into the commonly held belief of it’s everyone, and those conversations erode your brand, and they erode their perception of you as a leader.

Now, letting the odd small things slide can often snowball into a bigger or more frequent collection of things, making the inevitable accountability conversation a bit like unravelling balls of wool that have been left in a basket of kittens.

Staff turnover may increase as people seek more pleasant environments, or they’re looking for teams where the work is more evenly distributed. Often, managers attempt to address low-quality work by giving the work to somebody that they know will do a better job or they take the job on themselves and wonder why it’s four o’clock and they still haven’t started the work that they needed to get done today.

Oh, and if you’ve given that work to your team superstar, there’s an increasing risk that they’ll reach a point where they’re fed up with being the one who does all the things. Instead, they’ll choose to find somewhere else where they can shine, leaving you with, at best, a mediocre team.

how do you deal with this?

So how do you deal with negative behaviour within your team? Well, first, let’s talk about the foundations. It’s important that you have the energy necessary to be there for your team, and this means that you have effective coping mechanisms. You have tools and strategies in place for those full-on weeks.

You have the social support structures in place, and, more importantly, you access them regularly. Often when I’m working with clients, this involves unravelling the belief that if I fall apart, everything around me will fall apart too. You don’t need to be responsible for everything in order to be worthy.

You’re already worthy, so give yourself permission to rely on somebody else now and then. What else is in your foundation toolbox? You’re fueling your body just as an athlete does. You’re hydrated with water rather than a tonne of coffee or energy drinks. You’re moving your body, you’re getting outside.

managing a team is an Olympic sport

You’re having a laugh. Managing your team is an Olympic sport, and that means training your mind and your body for highly conscious performance, even when you don’t feel like it. Next up, check in on your trust barometer. If you’re not sure what that means, listen to Episode 99 which was on how to increase employee engagement using strategies that will build your trust barometer.

spotting unacceptable behaviour

So let me ask you a question. Are you and your team clear about what is considered to be poor or unacceptable behaviour? Are you role modelling the way, for example, if it’s important or your team to not be late for work or to communicate if there’s a genuine reason for the occasional lateness.

  • Are you on time for work? Have you communicated the standing working hours and your expectations around that when somebody is late and they haven’t communicated with you or the team?
  • Have you provided feedback in the moment?
  • And are you consistent in providing that feedback across your whole team?

Clarity creates safety, so ensure everybody is clear on what is and what isn’t acceptable, and if you notice poor behaviour, act on it immediately.

Don’t wait in the hope that things will get better on their own. It won’t. Create a private space where you can have a conversation and ensure that you haven’t reached a decision prior to the conversation as you won’t yet know what’s going on for them right now, calmly and objectively present the facts and then listen.

  • How can you help them?
  • What did they believe has contributed to this behaviour?
  • What don’t you know?

Ensure that this conversation remains about their behaviour, not them as a person. So when you’re presenting your observation of the behaviour, explain the impact of that behaviour, for example, if the person was an hour late and Mary had to deal with the calls coming in on her own or if we weren’t able to help person x with problem y. Focus on getting to the root of the problem so that the need for the poor behaviour disappears, but it’s a balance between wanting to help and being really clear that this particular behaviour cannot continue.

creating a pleasant environment

It may take one meeting or a couple of meetings to iron out a plan for resolving this behaviour and the consequences of not remedying that behaviour within a particular time frame. As managers, we are responsible for ensuring that our team gets their reason why done by delivering the things within the time specified, but we’re also responsible for creating an environment that’s at a minimum pleasant to be in, all the way through to, it’s enjoyable to be in.

We are responsible for that environment, for it being safe, for it being transparent and for it being fair. The cost of ignoring poor behaviour impacts you. It impacts your team and it impacts everybody who comes into contact with your team. So please don’t delay, choose to have those courageous conversations today.