My friend Matt is a heading up the Crossrail project – not the easiest of jobs, as you can imagine. He’s a wonderful guy and during dinner recently he told me about an analogy he uses. He says that in a team of people there are team players, and there are vandals. The team players are the ones who look for solutions, not problems, and the vandals are the problem-finding, difficult people who relish demanding situations and sometimes even conspire to make them worse. The bad apples; the ones we learn to stay away from in the playground, and subsequently tell our children to do the same, training them how to spot them and use avoidance tactics so as not to be tarred with the same brush.
It won’t surprise you to learn that I’m not great with vandals; I can sniff them out a mile off. I don’t like people who scupper things or deliberately try to be pessimistic. I’m from the “there’s no such word as can’t” school of thought – the mentality that whether you think you can, or think you can’t, you’re right both ways. Essentially, I’m an optimist, so it doesn’t sit right with me when I work with anyone who doesn’t truly get on board and enjoy the journey.
Of course, there are the plodders, too. And for every dynamo you need a plodder or two; those who aren’t really team players but work well on their own. There’s nothing wrong with them, in fact I like plodders, every company needs them. Not everyone wants to set the world on fire (or can handle the exhausting high maintenance that involves) so a nice mix is fine – team players, dynamos and plodders. Just park the vandals.
“ Team players are the ones who look for solutions…and the vandals are the problem-finding, difficult people”
Of course, the way to deal with a vandal is to set them up. Nothing sinister, just feeding them with a bit of inaccurate information which, when it surfaces, has them banged to rights. Another of my friends in senior management did just that. He fed a story to the vandal and, just as he thought, the press got hold of it. They couldn’t publish it once they knew it to be untrue. But when they called my friend to check the story, without revealing their source, he could confidentially tell them that he’d planted it. It wasn’t true, and it could only have come from one person, the vandal.
Confront the problem
Sometimes we make the mistake of putting up with vandals, but like the school bully, their behaviour will always catch up with them. Having them in your team is toxic. It sours the plodders and demotivates the cherished team players.
Having the courage to confront them about their behaviour is key. Putting up with it normalises it and makes it unacceptable, which it never, ever is. So, if you recognise a vandal in your staff room, expose them for what they are. It will be the best thing for both of you, not to mention the rest of your team.
Hellen Ward is managing director of Richard Ward Hair & Metrospa in London’s Sloane Square and chair of Trailblazers for the hairdressing sector.
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