Mr. Toxic

Published: February 19, 2013

"But, he's our top performer." Many teams are graced by the dilemma of managing the coworker who leads the pack in business performance but poisons every human he touches on the way to his personal success. Leaders are beset with the fallout while the cash register keeps ringing. Mr. Toxic has become indispensable.

The person with personnel decision authority is forced to decide what to sacrifice. Do I give up the short term gains of my trouble-maker’s productivity or do I protect the mission and values of my organization’s culture? Do I take courageous action or quietly normalize misbehavior? The devil you know is always easier to endure than the devil you don’t know.

What we allow we sanction. The true culture of an organization is evidenced as much by what we do and say as it is by what we fail to say and do. When leaders elect to tolerate poison in exchange for the illusion of indispensability, they give power to dysfunction. No one is indispensable.

Back to basics. What is our purpose for linking our time and energy with a particular workplace? Do the day-to-day exchanges between teammates reflect that purpose and model the values that define how we deliver the gift of our talent? Are we willing to call a foul when a breach occurs? This brave level of accountability provides the most reliable foundation for a team’s drive to experiment, explore, discover, and create.

Hire slow, fire fast. Make sure your partners are in tune with the music your workplace wants most to make. Have the wherewithal to act when the dissonance is hurting everyone’s ears. Let Mr.Toxic ruin someone else’s harmony.

Photo of Steve Ritter, the co-founder of The Center for Team Excellence

Steve Ritter

Steve Ritter is an internationally recognized expert on team dynamics whose clients include Fortune 500 companies, professional sports teams, and many educational organizations. He is on the faculty of the Center for Professional Excellence at Elmhurst University where he earned the President's Award for Excellence in Teaching. Steve is the former Senior Vice President, Director of Human Resources at Leaders Bank, named the #1 Best Place to Work in Illinois in 2006 and winner of the American Psychological Association's Psychologically Healthy Workplace Award in 2010. Steve provides ongoing workplace culture consultation to many thriving companies including Kraft Foods, Advocate Health Care, Kellogg's, the Chicago White Sox, AthletiCo, and Northwestern Mutual Financial Network.