Merito Group is a boutique recruitment firm based in the Washington DC Metro area and relies on its dedicated team to drive it towards success every week. As part of our success, it is imperative that our team can rely on their coworkers and teammates for support. But what can you do when one of your team hasn’t got your back and has become ‘toxic?’

Lately, we have been hearing a lot from our clients about “toxic” coworkers and teammates. This issue isn’t new; there have been bad coworkers since the beginning of organized work. But these days, their impact feels bigger and more destructive. Businesses need teamwork to function. And teams need to be more collaborative, adaptable, and proactive than ever. The days of top-down decision making are long gone in many companies and industries, as it’s replaced by grassroots innovation that’s unleashed through coworkers openly networking and sharing information across boundaries. Because of this new dynamic, dysfunctional teammates can damage the results of a whole team in a way that was much harder to do in the old, siloed models of working.

The most common and destructive toxic behaviors we see include:

  • backstabbing, criticizing, and blaming
  • gossiping and spreading rumors
  • agreeing in meetings, but not following through afterward
  • hoarding information
  • purposely undermining others
  • caring only about personal agendas (over team and company goals)

We’ve studied thousands of teams and collected data across all industries, sectors, and geographies to learn what makes some teams high performers and what makes others fail. Our research indicates that the single most important factor in team success or failure is the quality of relationships on the team. In fact, 70% of the variance between the lowest-performing teams, which we call saboteur teams, and the highest-performing teams, or what we have labeled loyalist teams, correlates to the quality of team relationships — not some or most of the relationships, but all of them. Thus, one toxic team member is all it takes to destroy a high-performing team.

Toxic team members are destructive because they:

Create unnecessary drama and distraction. They suck the positive energy and creative brainpower out of the room. Team members waste precious time watching their back, instead of openly innovating, taking risks, and speaking up candidly about what’s on their minds.

To read more on how to spot a potentially toxic coworker, how they are affecting your business and how you can remedy the situation, read more of Abby Curnow-Chavez‘s fascinating article in the Harvard Business Review here.