Addressing the ‘Black Sheep’ on Your Team
At Impact, we do a lot of coaching that helps organizations develop better functioning teams. Working with individual team members and the team as a whole to find more effective ways to relate to and communicate with each other, collaborate, and drive innovation and growth together.
That’s because it’s easy for even a high-functioning team to stumble and struggle together at times. Any disruption – like a change in leadership or strategic focus, or moving roles and responsibilities around – can have a much bigger impact on our people than we realize.
Like a pebble tossed in a pond
Similar to the way Family Systems Theory suggests disruptions within a family – such as an illness, divorce, career or school change, birth, or death – can cause members of the family to act out, members of a team can also behave differently after a system change.
Moving a member of the team out because they aren’t performing well. Adding a team member to help achieve a goal. Streamlining a process to increase efficiency. Or introducing a new deliverable because it benefits the business.
They may be positive adjustments. They may even be the right things to do. But these changes often have a lot of unintended consequences. Like when you toss a pebble in a pond and you see the ripples emanating out from it.
For example, a team member may start to act out, behave differently, or create challenges for one or more members of the team. And it may seem completely uncharacteristic of them. Like it’s out of the blue. But what’s often happening is the individual is reacting to that change in the team system.
And the individual may not even understand their behaviour. They may just realize something feels uncomfortable. The situation is causing stress and they’re reacting on instinct. They’re in fight, flight or freeze mode. Because the system change doesn’t feel comfortable for them yet.
Helping the team function effectively again
The team member acting out is like the “black sheep” of the family. And it’s our job as leaders to get curious about and have more dialogue with them. To listen more and talk less. Ask questions. Not rush to judgement. Really try to understand the individual.
Did something change in the way they relate to the team? Their work? Their relationships? How have our decisions as leaders impacted them?
It requires us to raise our awareness about how we dialogue with our people – and improve the way we lead with black sheep. To recognize their stress reactions and what we can do to help alleviate them. To get better at reading changes in the team’s relationships and take the time to address them head on. Really raising our understanding of each other and giving people the benefit of the doubt. Understanding that when team members act out, it isn’t the whole of who they are. That with the right kind of attention, they can start to feel more comfortable. And the team can function effectively again.
To improve, just like in Family Systems Theory, everyone on the team has to elevate the way they relate to one another. So every member of the team can show up as their best selves.
It can take a lot of time – and a lot of dialogue. But assessments, coaching, and internal work can help.
As leaders, we can’t fix every team dynamic challenge. But if everyone wants to work together, we can improve. And help all our team members improve.