Gabazira's blog

The Effectiveness-Lab

The increasingly emotive workplace – be wary of team spoilers

Stand guarded against individuals that damage team dynamics at work.


Team spoilers can hide behind their technical brilliance.  Ironically, more often than not, team spoilers create signature-value for the firm.  The latter produces a blind spot for hiring managers and HR departments alike – who wants to get rid of a staff that knows their job so very well, even if they aren’t your ideal team player?

However, truth be told, in this day and age, technical brilliance is not worth the cost to companies of failing to sustain team spirit

And with Millennials ascending to the corporate-suite and the Z-generation starting to enter the labour market, the workplace is becoming an emotive arena. The generations that came before the Millennial and Z generations were more neutrally descriptive than emotive.

The older generations were more tolerant of the psychological insecurity and the accompanying pains of feeling unaccomplished at work.  They lived to put bread and butter on the table, and this could only be done in a physical workplace. There weren’t many other alternatives available to them, and after all, they survived the second world war, cold – war, and the oil crisis of the 1970’s.

Expressing one’s feelings at work was looked at as a weakness. Perhaps, some still consider it a faux pas, especially in the politically correct professional environment.

But fast track 2018 – and an emotive workplace is no longer frowned at. People prefer working with colleagues and for employers that allow them to be their true self.  Are we witnessing a more authentic and less politically correct workplace?

Tolerance for psychological insecurity at work is thin and waning

Research by Google tells it all: it’s not the intelligence-diversity of a team that makes it successful.  It’s ‘group norms’ and the dynamics around them that render teams successful. Norms are a pattern of behaviour considered acceptable or proper by a social group.

Norms increase a team’s identity. According to Google, what distinguishes successful from failed teams, is how team members treat one another. The right norms increase the team’s collective intelligence while the opposite undermines teams, even when they are composed of the brightest individuals

Two behavioural characteristics of successful and effective teams:

  1. Team members speak almost in equal share – Google researchers referred to this phenomenon as ‘’equality in [the] distribution of conversational turn-taking.’’
  2. Team members experience high levels of ‘’average social sensitivity’’ — this apparently is the Google researcher’s fancy way of saying that team members are skilled at intuiting how others felt based on their tone of voice, their expressions and other nonverbal cues.

The above two phenomena have been termed by psychologists ‘psychological safety’ — a group culture that the Harvard Business School professor Amy Edmondson defines as a ‘’shared belief held by members of a team that the team is safe for interpersonal risk-taking.’’ Psychological safety is ‘‘a sense of confidence that the team will not embarrass, reject or punish someone for speaking up,’’ Edmondson wrote in a study published in 1999. ‘‘It describes a team climate characterised by interpersonal trust and mutual respect in which people are comfortable being themselves.’’

CEO’s and HR practitioners should take cognisance of the fact that corporate success may not be brought about by how smart/intelligent team members are, but how safe they feel in teams. Please do not allow team spoilers the space to create insecurity for others. Look out for telltale signs of team spoiling situations and address them in a forthright manner.

It’s not actually difficult to identify team spoiling signs and harbingers of such habits. Like in any diverse team, you will get all kinds of characters and personality. Certain individuals and most likely, the team spoilers are: more politically savvy than the others; use their politics pedigree to manipulate situations and remain in control; deal both in-the-team and on-the-side of the team – i.e. double-faced and deceitful; and more often than not, despite their higher than average IQ are insecure.

Managing the team spoilers:

It’s for  ‘flipped HR’ to deal with team spoilers.  HR has to step up to identify, control, or move-on team spoilers.

Yes, HR will still do its mundane:

  • Recruitment & selection = Attract the best talent to the organisation
  • Contracting & Payroll = legalities and Effective Reward management
  • Organisation & productivity = Aligning daily activities at work to organisational strategy and immediate projects/goals; Identifying 24/7, digital mechanisms to feedback employee performance, as well as one-stop-shop where all performance feedback is collated

But, flipped HR has to also pay attention to:

  • Organisational Climate and Staff retention = Creating the right work environment and ensuring staff ‘warmth’ and their retention – for example, create ways to monitor the state of ‘psychological safety’ within teams in the workplace

Effective and efficient HR practice works across the entire organisation’s value chain, moreover, seamlessly and horizontally. HR units should now embrace skills that have traditionally been hired outside HR departments – Psychology majors; Researchers and Analysts, etc

Increasingly, companies do not need HR ‘warm-bodies’, but instead, ‘HR-process team leaders’ that work directly within departments to institutionalise best practice and modern people management.


3 responses to “The increasingly emotive workplace – be wary of team spoilers”

  1. There is a serious anormaly in today’s efforts for Organisation climate and staff retention . In the Kenyan context, Individual manipulations are crowding recruitment processes. Strong candidates are phased out at shortlisting stage. Weak candidates make it but with vulnerable anxieties. Unfortunately new hires know, they were helped. It is a noose around the neck, they have to play puppet. Their performance is directed, they read someone else’s script. But does this have any effect on outcomes, not really. It’s their skill or lack of, that matters. In this climate, they are gagged, and their commitment is as far as they can take. It is the reason we have experts without jobs. In their place, people who lack commitment and expertise thriving personally but hurting organisations.


  2. Thanks Apollo for this article. However, I am wondering what are some of the ways to create ways to monitor the state of ‘psychological safety’ within teams in the workplace. Are really companies investing in this matter considering that it’s a critical one in the workplace?


    1. C.U. – companies have no choice but to invest in the emotional and ultimately, mental-well being of those that work for them

      HR units need to be staffed differently – they need new skills as we said in the blog – armed with such skills they will lead everyone else in changing how we deal with people issues at work

      Even advanced economies, normally ahead of the game, are in trouble on this matter:

      Thanks for reading the blog and hope all is well – keep yourself emotionally sound!!


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About Me

Apollo B. Gabazira is an Ugandan OD. junkie fascinated by matters that render organisations/individuals effective or not. He blogs on effective leadership and management. He is a devoted green-farmer and breeds the Ayrshire cow at Nakabugu, Luuka district, Uganda. Apollo is quite effective at what he chooses to do.


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