Signs of a toxic team

Most people know when they’re on a toxic team, but sadly, the team members who contribute to the toxicity are often unaware of the role they play in making their colleagues’ work lives miserable. Since we, at Brave Birds Studio, began our mission to stamp out toxicity in the workplace, we have observed first-hand what behaviours contribute to a toxic team.

Lack of Self-Awareness – There are a huge number of self-assessment tools out there that can help teams build self-awareness. Have a facilitator go over the team’s results and individually reflect on how you’re showing up for your team. If you, as an individual, aren’t translating the results into understanding and appreciating differences in others, working on your weaknesses, and contributing your strengths to achieve the best outcomes for your team you’ve opened the door to toxicity.

Lack of Vulnerability – There’s nothing worse on a team when an individual or individuals think they have nothing more to learn and have zero intention of changing. They’re the smartest people in the room, they’re always right, and they tell, yell, and sell or coerce, which means they’re advocating their own agenda instead of listening and asking questions. These individuals contribute to a low level of trust on the team and a lack of innovation. It’s especially tough when this person is the leader. We worked with a group where the leader would defer to her staff under the guise of being inclusive, but constantly undermined our efforts to promote self-discovery by saying the team is great the way it is, and nothing needed to change. You can imagine how that engagement ended.

Lack of Transparency – We’ve all worked with people who like to hoard information. Secrecy gives them power over others if they’re the only one’s privy to processes, programs, and company goals. Information hoarders put their teams at risk and set the team up for failure.

Lack of Conflict – When we talk about conflict we talk about a conflict of ideas. Team members should be able to ask questions, discern ideas, and challenge each other. Good conflict leads to better decision-making. Most teams shy away from conflict in favour of false harmony. Conflict is toxic when it becomes inter-personal and team members attack each other in a very personal way. We’ve seen these attacks play out even when we’re in the room facilitating. It’s ugly and the perpetrators don’t like being called out on it because they’d rather point the finger at others.

Lack of Communication – We’re always asked about how to have difficult conversations. People make up stories about their interactions with others. Two colleagues working on a project together that goes poorly can come up with two completely different stories about how they worked together and each one is convinced their story is the correct one. These individuals need to share their stories, without judgement, and listen. They need to share the impact the project had on each other, on others, and commit to actions that will achieve a better outcome.

Toxic teams struggle in most, if not all, of these areas. Brave Birds Studio has had enormous success with teams who are willing to embrace our process for building strong and cohesive teams. It’s uncomfortable work because toxic teams are emmeshed in their own dysfunction and change is hard. Trust me, if you’ve seen some of the successful teams we’ve worked with from where they started to where they are now, you’d be willing to do the work. Contact me at for more information.