No team leader wants to think he or she has chosen poorly or that the people on a team may not all be productive members of that team. However, as the person responsible for a team of individuals, a leader must weed out any potential problematic team members early in the team’s development. The adage “slow to hire, quick to fire” or as I like to say “weed your garden early” is usually the best approach when dealing with a team. Destructive team members have the potential to irreversibly damage the dynamics of the group and, consequently, inhibit the team from reaching its full potential.
It’s natural to want to please everyone or not to interrupt team by removing a team member, but this isn’t always advantageous. It can be challenging to prove damaging behavior, especially when that behavior isn’t simply observable like inflicting physical pain or using drugs. This is why it is essential to tune in, and remain tuned in, to what is going on with every team member. Part of the team development dynamic is monitoring the behaviors, actions, and words of team members. This doesn’t mean micromanaging or becoming an overbearing leader; it simply means listening and watching more than speaking and keeping a detailed record of behaviors. When leading expeditions, to circumvent a potential expedition interruption, a co-leader or myself would spend one-on-one time with each participant within the first three days of a trip. Not only does this reassure team members that their leaders are available to talk and to listen but it also helps the leaders to assess everyone’s feelings and concerns, if any. Providing a time and a safe place to air grievances can defuse any major blow-ups. As shown in my book TEAMS ON THE EDGE, the negativity generated by one individual on an expedition in Baja, Mexico—can weave a path of destruction that impacts every team member.
Like gardeners, who tend their gardens to remove weeds that spread and suck the life out of adjacent plants, team leaders must prune, and prune early. When there is evidence that a team member is not fully contributing, socially or technically, a leader owes it to the team to remove that person as soon as possible. The faster a destructive team member is removed, the faster the team can get back on task. Letting a caustic team member remain on your team can result in that person’s manipulation of other team members and, before you know it, there is a rebellion.
Has letting go of a team member ever improved your team? Tell me about it in the comments below.