The Team Spoiler

Sounds like a kindergarten encounter, or maybe an encounter at work! I arrived at the pool for my early morning swim yesterday to find all the lanes occupied. Just after Labor Day and everyone was back in the groove, or trying to be. I immediately sought out a lifeguard to help me ask one of the groups of swimmers to begin to circle swim to enable more people to fit into a lane area; that is the established protocol where I work out.

I Don’t Want It but You Can’t Have It

Someone who had been waiting before me jumped up and told me that we couldn’t circle swim because one person in that area was too slow. And the one slow swimmer would mess things up. He said, “Circle swimming isn’t possible with these slow guys. No one can circle swim here!” I patiently explained that I’d be glad to circle swim with the slow swimmer and that many of us had done this before. He stormed back to his waiting area, body language expressing disgust…

Obstacle to Change but Change Happens

Life guard arrives and begins to organize the circle swim: Seeing that circle swim was about to take place, the person who had just accosted me stormed up to me again and said he’d been waiting longer than me, and if anyone was going to circle swim he’d do it. I politely said, “That’s great, after all it is your turn.” He then jumped in the pool – not happy, but wet. Or maybe he was happy; happy to be a spoiler, or so he thought. I simply went to the next lane area, organized another circle swim and guess what? I ended up in the area with all the friendly and faster swimmers…hmm…a little karma at work there.

The Anti-Team Builder

Too often, we see this attitude in our work environments. A team member may be entrenched and unwilling to provide positive contribution. Additionally, that person is unwilling to see others succeed when they provide positive contribution. When this happens you’ve got a team spoiler.

  • Do you have a spoiler on your team? How do you deal with that person?
  • If you’re a leadership coach, HR consultant, change manager or team building facilitator how do you advise your clients to deal with a spoiler?
  • Please share your wisdom below so we can all learn how to navigate through our daily swim.

Do you have a team spoiler on your team?

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4 Responses to The Team Spoiler

  1. Aargh! I hate team spoilers! And I’ve known quite a few. (Hopefully haven’t been one myself…)

    In teams, one thing I do is reengage the spoiler in a discussion of team purpose. “Why are you here? Are you getting what you need out of this team? Is this team getting what it needs from you? Is there a mismatch? How can we help you?”

    Although, to be honest, the “purpose” conversation doesn’t always works. Some folks, you just gotta hand over to karma…

    Thx, as always, for your great posts Billy.

    • Thanks for the comment David. Great input, to ask the spoiler what he/she is getting out of the team experience and begin conversation that way.

  2. Interesting (but not surprising) Billy that the spoiler was the also the one “waiting for things to happen” instead of “making things happen”. Good for you Billy (but also not surprising)! :)

    My guess is that he was “as” upset that he didn’t come up with a solution as he was the possibility that you may “cut in line” (yes, kindergarten behavior to be sure) but one approach to managing spoiling behavior is to invite them in to solutions. How would they resolve the situation given the parameters? The beautiful thing about spoilers is that when they become part of the solution, they can be as amazing an advocate as they once were a detractor!

    I also agree with David however, when a spoiler is committed to spoiling we must manage through as best we can without getting “hooked” and as the saying goes “Let go and Let God.” Depending on what’s at stake, some days you just have to live to fight another day…… :-)

    • Great comments Valerie, thanks. I agree that inviting the spoiler into the process to find solutions is the best first step.

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