As leaders, every individual has had to work with a difficult colleague. Someone who is counter productive to the team or challenging to get along with. Specifically, many struggle with identifying these difficult personality types in their groups and finding creative ways to pivot these traits to an asset. Within teams, specific behaviors can contribute to counterproductive work behavior, and disturb the natural growth
and formation of teams. Across social and professional environments, distinct traits negatively affect development, leaders identifying these traits and shifting them to productive work environment behaviors heavily impacts the efficacy of leaders.
Tools towards identifying these behaviors begin with intentional observation of your team, feedback from employees and analysis of the psychological safety
of your employees. Constantly in work settings, feedback from direct reports and colleagues allow for growth and learning across all positions.
Also important to keep in mind is that all of the following traits may be represented in team members. Each of these qualities falls on a spectrum, low demonstration may not endanger team success while frequent demonstration of these traits will heavily impact job satisfaction and success of teams. Each of the following traits may even be beneficial in specific workplace circumstances.
To identify counterproductive work traits, start by identifying these personality types by the following behaviors:
Most detectable through inflated self-esteem, narcissism can be spotted in individuals of all levels. An enhanced ego may lead to lack of empathy for others and a demand for recognition, threatening psychological safety in team environments. Individuals exhibiting these traits may have trouble accepting criticism or feedback. Being a necessity in workplace development, utilizing feedback is crucial for teams and especially, leaders. Managers who identify these traits in their team members should focus on turning these traits into a tool for their team. Consider using this individual as a point person for delegation, or as an “editor” to focus on attention to detail.
The second leg of counterproductive work behavior is Machiavellianism. Noticeable through strategic manipulation, machiavellianists may become identifiable through lack of empathy and focusing on personal gain, beyond a normal level. However, these individuals are often flexible and willing to adapt to achieve their desired outcomes. As a leader, this opens an opportunity for value alignment to impact goal commitment that would strengthen efforts towards a final project. However, without correct value alignment, this individual may endanger psychological safety of others through lack of understanding and care for others. If a manager suspects a member of their team may be a machiavellianist, they should focus on the analysis of psychological safety within the team environment. Individuals who exhibit traits of machiavellianism will negatively impact the efficacy of their teams.
The final piece of counterproductive work behavior is Psychopathy. Individuals who are seen as anti-social and demonstrate a lack of remorse can be identified as psychopathic, creating an unstable work environment. In team environments, these individuals will frequently demonstrate a lack of empathy and low control over impulses. Leaders may also notice manipulative habits by these individuals and a disregard for team norms or practiced behaviors or, leaders may not notice these habits at all because these individuals are frequently well-versed in impression management and acting how they think a superior would want them to. Leaders should be cognizant to mitigate any discomfort caused by these individuals as it could further affect team behavior. To spot these behaviors, leaders must depend on feedback from team members to further understand In team settings, these characteristics may be helpful in being unaffected by stressful situations and maintaining a steady level of stress tolerance.
Recall that the above traits are counter productive in extreme cases but natural in small doses. Managers should also consider the causes of these counterproductive work behaviors which could stem from different points of uncertainty within the workplace such as unclear roles and organizational change.
As always in professional settings, it is crucial for leaders to evaluate teams on objective measures on a frequent basis to better understand team dynamics. In addition to measuring the success of teams, it is important to receive honest employee feedback on team members to ensure that the psychological safety of a team is not threatened by one individual.
Finally, managers should be cognizant of these personality behaviors within themselves. Frequently as individuals climb the organizational hierarchy, their objectivity diminishes. Once an individual is near the top of an organization, it is common for narcissistic behavior to foster from lack of constructive criticism. Executives may feel “untouchable” yet, this feeling is counter productive to the work environment. To be a self aware manager in terms of these counterproductive behaviors, ensure that your employees feel safe and comfortable in sharing helpful feedback with you and, consider use of analytic softwares such as AIM Insights
that allows for continuous feedback from both superiors and subordinates.
Overall, managers must utilize their relationship management skills to thoroughly analyze and monitor teams in all work environments. Being a strong leader also means advocating for individuals within a team and fostering a safe environment that allows professionals to prioritize work-life balance. Managers set the tone for the team as a whole through all levels of development. Setting an example of self-awareness, an environment of embracing mistakes and learning from feedback will ultimately lead to the greatest success within a team. In addition to utilizing past leadership experiences, managers should create an environment that promotes adaptability. Every situation may not fall within ideal circumstances and great leaders are able to learn and grow in dynamic environments that fosters creative problem solving and creates strong work relationships and teamwork which in turn, will lead to the greatest successes.