by Tyler Reimschisel, MD
In my last article, I discussed the personal, team-oriented attributes that contribute to effective teamwork. They include demonstrating excellent cognitive ability, having a collective orientation to the team’s work (being a “team player”), being team savvy, having adaptability and flexibility, and being conscientious and agreeable. In this article, I would like to briefly review the other end of the spectrum of personal, team-oriented attributes by discussing those behaviors that undermine team effectiveness and can lead to team dysfunction.
R.J. Bennett and S.L. Robinson conducted a series of three studies to generate, refine and validate a tool to measure deviant behaviors of team members toward other individuals (interpersonal deviance) or toward the organization in which the team works (organizational deviance) (Bennett and Robinson, 2000).
In their validated assessment instrument, the measures of interpersonal deviance include:
- Made fun of someone at work
- Said something hurtful to someone at work
- Made an ethnic, religious or racial remark at work
- Cursed at someone at work
- Played a mean prank on someone at work
- Acted rudely toward someone at work
- Publicly embarrassed someone at work
The behaviors within the organizational deviance category include:
- Took property from work without permission
- Spent too much time fantasizing or daydreaming instead of working
- Falsified a receipt to get reimbursed for more money than was spent on business expenses
- Took an additional or longer break than is acceptable
- Came in late to work without permission
- Littered the work environment
- Neglected to follow boss’s instructions
- Intentionally worked slower than could have worked
- Discussed confidential company information with an unauthorized person
- Used an illegal drug or consumed alcohol on the job
- Put little effort into the work
- Dragged out work in order to get overtime
To help establish the validity of their scale, they evaluated how their scale correlated with other measures of deviant behavior and with scales of behaviors that are conceptually similar to deviance. They found correlations between their interpersonal and/or organizational deviance measures and multiple related behaviors, including antagonism toward others, psychological and physical withdrawal, frustration and aggression, perceptions of inequity and/or procedural injustice, lack of acceptance of social expectations in the workplace (normlessness), manipulation of others in interpersonal situations (Machiavellianism), decreased conscientiousness and diminished courtesy toward others*.
It is unlikely that any of these findings are surprising to anyone who has spent time working in teams. However, it does bear emphasizing that if left unaddressed or unchecked, persistent demonstrations of any of these toxic behaviors can have a corrosive impact on interpersonal interactions within a team and on the organization as a whole. As I wrote in a previous article, emotions are contagious, and continual problematic emotions that lead to dysfunctional behaviors are highly transmissible to other team members. Therefore, it is essential that leaders and teams effectively address a pattern of any deviant behaviors so the team can maintain a high level of team satisfaction, quality performance and positive impact on the organization.
My previous article and this one are based on the studies reviewed in Tannenbaum and Salas’ excellent book, titled Teams that Work: The Seven Drivers of Team Effectiveness. I strongly recommend teams read this book together because I think it includes a lot of practical, evidence-based approaches that your teams can use to improve effectiveness and impact.
Bennett RJ and Robinson SL. Development of a measure of workplace deviance. Journal of Applied Psychology 2000;85(3): 349-360.
Tannebaum S and Salas E. Teams that Work: The Seven Drivers of Team Effectiveness. Oxford University Press, 2021.
*It is important to note that in this brief article I have not discussed all potential deviant behaviors. The purpose of the studies by Bennett and Robinson was to identify the most common categories of deviant behavior across all contexts, not to generate a comprehensive list of all potential deviant behaviors across every conceivable context.