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Piranha Behavior On A Team

One of the most difficult and destructive team personalities to deal with in an organization is one that I refer to as the “Piranha.” Like the South American fish that eats other fish it perceives as a threat, this personality type sabotages team success by manipulating and coercing others for personal gain.No matter how strong your team leadership skills, how charismatic your personality or how fluidly you negotiate, a “piranha” behavior on a team sabotages every effort toward the success of the team as a whole.

Why? Because the fundamental and most important behavior in creating a successful, high-performance team is trust. Trust is about vulnerability. Team members who trust one another can be comfortable being open, even exposed to one another regarding their failures, weaknesses, and fears. Vulnerability-based trust is predicated on the simple and practical idea that people who are willing to admit the truth about themselves are not going to engage in the kind of political behavior that wastes time and energy, and more important, makes it difficult to achieve real team results.

While the advantages of being a high-functioning team are enormous, they can only be achieved if every member of the tam is willing to invest the time and emotional energy in the process. For example, team members that lack trust often exhibit the following behaviors…

  • Waste time and energy managing their own behaviors for effect (a “piranha” behavior)
  • Find reasons to avoid attending team meetings
  • Contribute very little, even when specifically addressed
  • Dismissive and caustic in responding to other members’ ideas and inputs
  • Conceal their weaknesses and mistakes from one another
  • Jump to conclusions about the intentions and aptitude of others without attempting to clarify them
  • Fail to recognize and tap into one another’s skills and experiences
  • Hesitate to ask for help or provide constructive feedback
  • Don’t offer help to people outside of their areas of responsibility

The first behavior we have to master to make our teams great is trust. To build trust, team members need to be vulnerable around one another so that they are unafraid to honestly say things like, “I don’t know the answer,” “I need help,” “I made a mistake,” “I’m not sure.” When one member is not vulnerable, it spreads like a disease and the team can be left in shreds. Unless each team member can readily speak these words when the situation calls for it, they will waste time and energy thinking about what they should say and wondering about the true intentions of their peers.

In order for a team to establish real trust, team members, including the leader, must be willing to be vulnerable around one another. Everyone must be committed to getting there. Every team member must be willing to take risks without a guarantee of success. They have to be vulnerable without knowing whether that vulnerability will be respected and reciprocated.

I have seen first-hand that once the piranha personality or team member unwilling to commit to the team is changed out, the team transforms immediately. In fact, while the rest of the team remains the same, it looks and behaves like an entirely different team. And, as these team members are now genuinely transparent and honest with one another, they are able to build the foundation to their long-term success: vulnerability-based trust.

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