How to combat a morale-draining team member | Women's Agenda

How to combat a morale-draining team member

I am not an accomplished athlete so the idea that I have much personal understanding about team sport is laughable. I don’t. But, over the years, I have watched quite a bit of sport and the part that never fails to intrigue me is the team dynamics on display.

Sporting teams are like any other group of people drawn together through common circumstances. Regardless of the reason they’re together, whether it’s a family, a project, a workplace or a game of hockey that unites them, every group must contend with the same broad challenges. Where there are different people there are different personalities, egos, moods, skills, temperaments, attitudes, beliefs and ideas. They all need to be juggled and balanced. Generally, how well they do that will be reflected in how well the group meets its particular objective.

Given the nature and number of variables that impact a group’s dynamics it’s usually a fluid process. Some days the group will work better than others. Sometimes the reasons why will be obvious but other times less so. It ebbs and flows.

The thing that makes sport quite intriguing to watch is that on a cricket pitch or a hockey field these dynamics are far more exposed than in most workplaces or families, for example. If someone is distracted or carrying doubts it’s often visible. Equally, if a team is in sync – in purpose and direction – it’s obvious and the scoreboard almost always confirms it.

Some of my interest in team sport stemmed from my husband participating in it. It was a big part of his life for a while and so it came to be a part of mine, even if only as a topic of conversation. It was through these conversations I came to learn of the term ‘sapper’.

A sapper is someone who seems to zap the life out of a team. It might simply be the person is having a tough day and their mood dampens the group atmosphere or it might be a person who is perpetually negative and unknowingly chips away at the team’s disposition. Either way it impacts the group — usually not for the best.

I certainly haven’t experienced a person that fits this bill in a sporting context but I can relate to it. I suspect it would be rare person who hasn’t encountered someone in their working life who is so negative that it is hard to remain upbeat in their presence. In an ideal world that wouldn’t be the case but in the real world it’s a fact of life. And in the workplace it’s a legitimate issue than can be detrimental to team morale as well as productivity. Whether your boss creates a tricky atmosphere or someone you manage does, the result is usually the same; an unhappy team.

So how can you minimise this type of havoc? How can you create a positive dynamic in an unhappy team? If you could use some advice in this area, you might like to register for the My Agenda webinar I am hosting with Michelle McQuaid on Wednesday. She will share her best strategies, tips and tricks to build and sustain team morale.

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