Whether they’re pushy, lazy, boss hating, self-promoting, or haven’t done any actual work since 1973, dysfunctional colleagues can make everyone look bad. Here’s how to win at work with a losing team.
Her name was Margaret. She had an answer for everything, even questions I didn’t ask her. She dominated team meetings, nearly jumping out of her chair with “Look at me!” –type comments aimed directly at the boss. The rest of us sitting there, jaws slack with amazement and disgust—we were merely a load she had to carry on her back.
His name was Mike, and he hadn’t done a full day’s work in years, but he sure knew how to draw us into his life of woe. One night at 10 p.m., I found myself finishing his report on deadline. He couldn’t be there, he said, because his father was sick. By that point, I wasn’t even sure he had a father. But there I was, alone, frustrated, and exhausted, in a state of loathing for work so intense I wished I could ditch it all.
And that is exactly where a dysfunctional co-worker—or as I call them, an “un-teammate”—can put you. It’s a crying shame, because working alongside a good team player is one of life’s most fulfilling experiences. She makes work enjoyable; she makes it feel like something bigger than a paycheck. Working with team destroyers, well, destroys all that. They slow work down; they sap its fun, trust, and creativity. And in the process, they invariably undermine the candid and energized debate that characterizes any successful group.
So why aren’t they all sent packing? In good organizations, most are—eventually. But many team destroyers are like workplace Houdinis, escaping damage to their own careers while making everyone else look bad. These are the people you must survive. But how?
The answer depends on the type of un-teammate you’re dealing with. Generally speaking, there are five: Boss Haters, Stars, Sliders, Pity Parties, and Self-Promoters. Each species has its own way of poisoning the environment and its own antidote. The first thing you can do is start with the assumption that virtually every team destroyer is an unhappy person. No one tries to damage co-workers, a team, or an entire organization without being a bit emotionally damaged themselves.
From the September 2007 issue of O, The Oprah Magazine
You don’t have to retire early to stop working. You just need to take the “work” out of work. Make work fun by doing these two things:
- Find people you enjoy working with. Of course you don’t always choose who you work with; but when you do, choose projects that allow you to work with people you trust, respect, and enjoy spending time with.
- Find problems you enjoy solving. Again, you may not always have a choice, but try to seek out projects you find interesting and are passionate about. If you’re not excited about any of the projects you currently have, propose a new project that you can lead.
Adapted from “How to Make Knowledge Work Fun” by Larry Stybel.
When it comes to networking, quality matters more than quantity. But how do you meet the right people? One way is to ask for introductions. Reach out to influential people in your network and ask them to put you in touch with others. Be specific about the introductions you want and why you want them. Explain what you are trying to achieve and the kind of contacts that would help you get there. Are you seeking your next job opportunity? Are you looking for ways to promote yourself? If you’re uncomfortable with being bold, remember that people enjoy helping others and you can always return the favor with some introductions of your own.
If you’re stuck with a bad boss, don’t give up. While you can’t change your boss, you may be able to alter the dynamic of your relationship. Focus on trying to better utilize your manager by doing the following two things:
- Exploit your boss’ strength. Figure out where your boss excels at and tap into those skills when they are most useful. For example, if he is good at big-picture thinking, ask him to share his vision for driving your critical project forward.
- Listen to learn. Too many bosses are critical of ideas that they haven’t generated. Next time your boss takes down your idea, listen. While it may be hard to hear, his critique could include useful feedback that improves your proposal.