Toxic Team Moves


"Conflict can destroy a team which hasn't spent time learning to deal with it." - Thomas Isgar


In the world of athletics, there are terms that define various moves or plays that people use.  A figure skater can execute a “double toe loop.” Wrestlers might put a “half nelson” hold on their opponent. A football team can run a “flea flicker.” When these are executed properly, the possibility for success increases.

Individuals and teams in the workplace can also execute moves and plays. Today I’ll focus on moves that may be signs of a toxic environment.  When they’re executed properly it can lead to a team’s demise. I’d like this to be an “interactive article”. I’ll list a few moves that I know of and I’d like you to add some in the comments section below.

“Double head turn/lean inThis move is executed by a person that feels the need to speak negatively about someone in a one-on-one setting. It’s executed carefully, as the person being talked about may be near.  This is the reason for the double head turn.  They want to make sure the coast is clear. The lean in insures that the conversation is just between the two people sitting/standing there.

“Yeah, I know!” – This move is executed immediately following a successfully executed “double head turn/lean in.” It’s done by the second person in the conversation. This agreement creates a bond between the two based on what they’ve just agreed upon regarding the unknowing third party. This can lead to further “double head turn/lean in” conversations on the team, thus creating what we know as gossip.

“Shhhh/Hi, how are you?” – This play is used either during the “double head turn/lean in” or the “Yeah, I know!” It’s an emergency defensive move that’s used when the person being spoken about comes into the place where the conversation is taking place. The conversation immediately stops, the two people immediately turn their gaze toward the person and (smiling) say “Hi, how are you?” This usually leads to light, superficial conversation about the weather or what they all plan to do after work.

These moves/plays can be executed by many different combinations of people within the work team at the same time. It’s not restricted to just the “direct reports” either.  On occasion, the leader will execute these as well. No matter who is executing them, they can quickly create a toxic environment where trust is literally non-existent.

If these are executed frequently enough, they eventually become part of the team’s culture. If you’d like to do some “culture identification” for your team/organization, you’ll benefit from my “What IS Your Organization’s Culture, Anyway” workshop. If you’re interested in learning more, please send me an email ( 

Remember to add your own “toxic moves” in the comments section below.


Kevin Jurek1 Comment