Help! I’m stuck in a toxic team

Poor you, that doesn’t sound good. Yet what strikes me most is that you believe you’re stuck. Who says you must stick around and can’t leave? I wonder if you’re finding your present situation so tough you’re struggling to find ways through, around or out of it. If that’s the case, possibilities may not spring to mind. Time for some deep breaths and a pause for thought.

Disclaimer: I’m not an employment lawyer and what follows are thought starters to help you take a more rounded view of your situation, particularly your ‘stuckness’.

Resist the urge to run for the exit
When all you can think of is working with any other team, at any other employer, beware – you might regret acting on the impulse. One of the most common questions used by recruiters and interviewers is why an applicant wants to leave their present role/employer. If your response to that is going to be an outpouring of resentment and complaint about all the faults in your present job, it’s not going to impress. Of one such applicant, an interviewer told me they wanted to “comfort them more than I wanted to hire them”.

Don’t tolerate bullying and harassment
If the prevailing team culture is one of bullying and intimidation, remember you don’t have to tolerate behaviours that break the law. There are plenty of great teams that ‘work hard and play hard’ without taking it to extremes at someone’s expense. Talk to someone in HR about the situation and get their advice. Be prepared to answer questions probing for specific examples – ‘it’s just toxic’ won’t cut it – identify situations, behaviours and their impact.

Talk to someone you can trust
It’s in situations like these when you’ll be glad you’ve stayed in touch with past bosses and colleagues. People who know you and yet can bring some objectivity to the conversation, as they don’t work at the same place. Or you may have some trusted colleagues where you work now. Is your experience the norm or an anomaly?

Ask yourself some tough questions
Years ago, whilst whingeing to one such trusted colleague I was prompted to weigh up what my job was giving to me – and what I was giving to it. To say that this was an eye-opener doesn’t cover it; the job was actually giving me heaps of invaluable experience and opportunities. Yes, the hours were long and expectations were high, but the balance of give and take was mutually beneficial (Thanks, Pete). What are you giving your current job? What does it give you? What have you already gained?

Explore alternatives
You may have more options than you can see right now, beyond ‘do I stay or go?’ Your employer may encourage people to transfer laterally to another discipline and broaden their skills (and value to the firm). It may be possible to get a short-term secondment to different parts of the organisation – or beyond it – that will better suit you and your skills. How can you change your job at your current employer?

Revisit your goals and ambitions
A worthwhile exercise is to revisit your ambitions and career goals. How does your present job match them? You may find that the reality of your ambitions doesn’t provide the fulfilment you thought it would. Check in with your values – the ‘deal-breakers’ for you, such as respect, trust, growth and integrity – and assess whether your goals are aligned with them. Sometimes our ambitions are what we think we should achieve, rather than what will truly nourish us. You may want to work with a coach to get greater clarity.

Resolve to learn
Dashing for the exit may deprive you of some valuable learning. Whether it’s the sector you’re in, the skills required or the experts you’re teamed with, I’ll bet there are plenty of learning opportunities in your current situation. Rather than focusing solely on yourself, look around at what you can learn that will stand you in good stead for the future. What lessons have you learned from this role / team / experience?


For more tips on dealing with difficult people at work, I highly recommend Bob Sutton’s ‘The Asshole Survival Guide’ – see my review here.

You find this post useful: 8 signs your team might need a tune-up

Dawn is the author of ‘The Feedback Book’ and ‘How to be Zoomly at work’

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Office workers scuffling at work – siraanamwong-Depositphotos














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