Halloween is just around the corner. My daughters are picking out their ghoulish costumes … one a princess the other a dead bride (gulp). Seems as kids get older the scarier their costumes get, my princess is 5 and my bride is 10. By the time kids become adults they can get even scarier — some even become Vampires, and they wear their costume to work, everyday.

In the following article, I’m going to talk a bit about how to deal with those Team Vampires and stop their negative bite.

If you are like me you probably remember as a kid playing pickup games like street hockey or basketball. All the kids would line up along the street or court and two “captains” would pick teams. All the rest of the kids in our ragged GWG jeans with velcro laced Sparx shoes would stand in a line and pray that we wouldn’t be last. But no matter how you picked the teams there was always someone left to last. The last one was that kid you didn’t want on your team because they didn’t have the skills, they were too rough, they were a winer, or any other of a host of other reasons.

Teams in the corporate and association world can be very similar to “pickin’ teams,” and those are the good days – usually we inherit people into a team. So given that here are the two scenarios:

Choose

There is a limited pool of people to choose from. You have to choose from that pool, get your choices approved by their manager – the best ones are the busiest and won’t be able to give your project full attention. You often choose the ones you like best or that you know you can work well with. There is always someone who wants to work on this project that doesn’t get chosen and tension is created in the workplace because there are a the lucky ones. If you are really lucky you get to hire someone new with skills you need into the team, but have to make sure they fit within the salary budget. And believe it or not this is the best case scenario.

Inherit

Your manager provides you a list of people who are on your team. You enter onto a team that has been in existence for awhile (i.e., OHS) where certain staff go to “hide,” because everyone has to be on a committee and they want to do as little work as possible. As well, I hear of team leads who inherit a team because someone retired, quit, or were reorganized. So often they are glad to be rid of the “pain’s” of the team. They will have a meeting with you and tell you who to watch out for and why this team is such a problem.

Then of course in both cases there can be great teams that are a pleasure to work with all the time… right?

No matter how you get your team either through inheritance or choice getting and or keeping people engaged is vital. And when people feel compromised either from being picked last, or disgruntled about the job – they can hurt a team. The apex of this is I call a Team Vampires, and as I’m sure you guessed they can be a bit harder to engage. So let’s look straight away at ways to get them on task and engaged in the efforts of the team.

TOP 5 WAYS TO ENGAGE A VAMPIRE

1. Look Them Straight in the Eyes

You might think this counter intuitive for a vampire. If you look at them in the eyes they can glamour you and get you to do what they want. That’s true, if they were real vampires, but we know they are people (LOL)… so just go with me on this one for a second. People do things for one of two reasons: fear or reward. If you can look your Team Vampire in the eyes with confidence and fairness and express what you need of them from a “task” standpoint, they will feel your confidence. That will let them know that you are watching how they perform in the task they were allotted. They will engage either because they are scared of reprisal for noncompliance or that their is a possibility to impress you and maybe a reward. Either way they engage with the task.

2. Invite Them into your Home

Again, if this was a real life Vampire – bad news ‘cause once their in your house they are going to suck your blood – but these are people so not much chance of that. So, invite them into your “house.” By that I mean level out or make them feel like part of the team. One of the biggest speed bumps for teams I work with is a non inclusive environment. Humans are predisposed to spending time with people we like. As a result, when people are excluded they begin to have ill feeling towards those “precious few.” When you work in a team, you are a team. If you want people engaged they need to feel connected to the team. The best way to do that is to treat everyone equally. We call it “level out.”

3. Acknowledge that They are 500 Years Old

Vampires live a long time. Like forever if they can get enough blood and avoid the sun. Over that time they gain a ton of life experience, so much so they probably bought Google stock at $70 and then sold it when it peaked at $747.24. That’s life experience (and likely a bit of luck). When it comes to Team Vamps sometimes they feel disengaged as a result of not having their experience and knowledge validated. Everyone on the team needs to be acknowledged regardless of age, experience, behavior, etc. You need to acknowledge that what they have to offer in way of insight as important. Everyone’s experience matters, and it must be heard in order for them to feel like a contributing member of the team. Without feeling like a contributor it is easy to disengage and become a negative member.

4. Stab them with a Wooden Stake

OK this is not a for real thing. Don’t ever hurt anyone. This is a metaphor. Check this out. Sometimes a Team Vampire will be so caustic and negative that there is very little chance of engaging them positively. This behavior is often associated with a host of “issues” they have and to be frank could be Pandora’s box when you open them. So you have a couple of choices. One is set them free. Remove them from the team. This will increase engagement of the rest of the team, as it is equally freeing for them. Second is confront their negativity privately and help work through it and form some resolutions (this is the only option if you aren’t allowed to fire them from the team). In this case you will then have to help the rest of the team become reengaged with the “new” team member who is changing their Vampire ways.

5. Seek Counsel from their Maker

Team Vampires come from somewhere, and report to someone. Take a look around your organization and see if you can exact who the person is who this Vampire either reports to or confides in. Seek some advice from them on this Team Vampire in a confidential and positive way. Approach it with concern about their participation and that you authentically value them and want to help them to offer their required and important skills into the team. Find out what their challenges are with the team, ways to manage them, and what their hot buttons are. More information on past successes with this person will give you benchmarks to help make their team experience (and everyone else’s) that much better. This can bite you in the butt if the Team Vampire finds out and reads your intentions wrong… so proceed with caution.

OK so there are my Top 5… but lets be serious about the reach of the Vampire. Often the negativity of the Team Vampire can infect others on the team. This can be a more pervasive problem than the individual themselves, as the entire project can get derailed. So here are some things you can do to confront and diffuse a team that is poisoned by negativity:

  • Use an appreciative inquiry approach and focus on how the “good things” of the group are creating “good results,” then try to get the team to use those “good things” and apply their core skills to other issues they are facing.
  • Connect with the group and have a one way “this is what we have riding here and we all agreed that is was important” meeting. This is the last resort, but sometimes you need to call a meeting, lay out the facts of the mission of the team, remind members that they have bought into this mission, and with their support it will succeed – otherwise “we’re all wasting our time.” End the meeting with, if you choose to stay in the meeting room, you will agree to hit the reset button and move forward positively otherwise grab your stuff and go. Again, last resort.
  • Approach individuals one-on-one and have the conversation about how they are feeling about the team. Be authentic and mention that you are concerned with the way that people are treating each other with negativity and seek their perspective on how to improve the culture.
  • Bring in a expert team developer to take your group through a renewal process. In my 3 F’s model, teams come together for 3 reasons to team build – Fun, Fast Forward or Fix. This is a “Fix” time, and you may need an expert team facilitator to help you navigate the issues of your team.
  • Remind the group of of your Full Value Contract (behavioral contract made as a team comes together) and the Mission of the project. Ask if the team feels they have been abiding by both, and if not what does the team need to do to get back on track.

No matter which way you cut it this is a really tough time for teams. All teams go through it, Tuckman calls it “Storming,” and in some cases teams get stuck in this stage and it becomes “Tornadoing.” Find and engage an expert team facilitator to help your group renew itself and stop the storm. Only then can you get back to work.

Teams are picked different ways. Sometimes its about making due with what you have. But that being said, it shouldn’t hurt to lead a team. Take the difficult first step to inspire changes and differences in Team Vampires so that everyone can get back to work. Your difficult, uncomfortable, and strong leadership move will have great ROI – but it could be one of the hardest times of your career. Let us know if we can help.

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