6 Self-Serving Behaviors That Will Torpedo Your Team


Self-serving team member
As a team member, you share responsibility for the success of your team.

If your team meetings are boring or wasting your time, explain the problem from your point of view. Then do a reality test. Do others feel the same way? If they do, there is a team issue, and by putting it on the table you have given your team an opportunity to discuss and solve the problem.

If no one else is having a similar experience, it might be an issue of your own temperament. When you identify in a non-judgmental way what is difficult for you, your team is likely to be willing to make changes. They may even come up with some creative solutions you hadn’t thought of.

For example…

… If the problem is that you get distracted easily, team members might find some fun ways to help you refocus when that happens. 

… If the problem is that it’s hard to sit still for long meetings, they might be willing to take breaks or perhaps you could stand up when you feel the need.

… Other times you might decide you need to tough it out because the team needs your active participation. But at least by having shared what’s hard for you, your team members will understand what’s going on for you, appreciate your efforts and not misinterpret them.

These are all examples of how serving yourself is also serving your team. They all involve:

  • Stating the truth of your experience in a non-judgmental way.
  • Reality testing – checking to see if others are having the same experience.
  • Openness to understanding other’s experiences, needs and ideas.
  • Seeking a solution that meets your needs without impeding your team’s ability to work together effectively.

6 self-serving behaviors that hurt your team:

  1. Hostility: Being aggressive, criticizing, or blaming toward other team members, the team leader or the team in general.
  2. Blocking: Rejecting ideas outright without considering them, arguing a point too long, or going off on a tangential topic.
  3. Competing: Trying to be the one with the best ideas, interrupting people, self-promoting, attention-seeking or talking the most.
  4. Lobbying: Pushing your own agenda or pet concern.
  5. Clowning around: At the right time, levity and laughter can lighten the conversation and make team meetings more fun, but it can also disrupt the work. Timing is important. Are your jokes helping the team or hindering them?
  6. Withdrawing: Acting indifferent, texting, doing unrelated work, daydreaming, or having side conversations.
  7. Passivity: Showing up at meetings unprepared, without having read materials that were sent ahead of time, showing up late, leaving early.

If you’re not happy with the way your team is working, instead of engaging in these self-serving behaviors, serve your team by non-judgmentally putting your concerns on the table.

If one of your team members engages in self-serving behaviors, it’s difficult to work around it. Most of us are guilty of some of these at one point or another. Everyone has a bad day sometimes. But ignoring an ongoing pattern of these behaviors will eventually torpedo the effectiveness of your team.



19 comments to 6 Self-Serving Behaviors That Will Torpedo Your Team

  • Yes, the self-serving behaviours are productivity killers, especially when they are spread out among a team. Your list of ‘serving yourself’ behaviours is great. In order to make progress with them I always suggest to folks that they take many small steps or actions towards the behaviours. Do something different right away, learn something from it, then something else. Don’t expect big change all at once and you’ll be surprised how much progress you make.

    • Excellent advice, Alan. I agree. And sometimes, a small change can turn out to be a leverage point that shifts the dynamics. Of course, it works best when people take personal responsibility for their own behavior. Team members could use the list as a checklist for self-assessment.

  • It’s amazing the tone that can be set by individuals within a team, and how they can suck the life right out of a group. Additionally, what a leader accepts, praises, and recognizes could either encourage or discourage what you’ve listed.

  • The other factor: perhaps the meetings are a waste of time. My colleague Bill Jensen has a great phrase: what do I need to KNOW, FEEL and DO as a result of this meeting.(1) What do I need to KNOW in order to participate and am I the one who needs to KNOW the content of the meeting. (2)FEEL: Why is it important that I attend (3) What am I to DO as a result of this meeting. Tedious meetings are often nothing more than data dumps. What a waste of time.

    Also, sometimes team meetings don’t work because we have the wrong members of the team involved. Example: Some members of a team might be the creative ones who love just testing out ideas. For the member who is the practical, get-the-job person, such a meeting might be a waste of their time. Call them in when there’s a concrete plan and it is time to test the validity of the action.

    Again, Jesse-great post

    • These are legitimate concerns, Eileen. So… then the question is, what will you do about it? Will you withdraw or engage in other self-oriented behaviors on this list? ..participate but feel miserable? … hope for a miracle? …Or will you put your concerns on the table?

      ps. If you do decide to raise the issue, follow the guidelines I provided in this post. Voicing your concerns in an aggressive or hostile way will be perceived as self-oriented and will not be well-received.

  • Great list! Creating and/or facilitating the right dynamics in a meeting is the responsibility of all involved.

    I also like Eileen’s comment – I will use her 3 points when creating an agenda for a meeting!

    Thanks for a great blog Jesse!

  • Jesse, you touch on something very close to my heart at the moment. I think it is harder today for individuals to “trust the process” of putting the team first, knowing their individual efforts will be recognised and rewarded. It just feels harder to convince people of the bigger picture as there is this perception that the only way for personal growth to happen is to have the ability to show off personal achievement.

    The trick might be for companies to review recognition processes as there is an unintended consequence of driving this “selfish” behaviour. I just think it’s a lot harder to convince people today to buy into the team agenda first, before their own personal one.

    Thanks for the post, and if you don’t mind, I would like to use some of this content (the behaviours to share with my team)

    • You’ve raised some excellent points, Thabo. What are the reasons people might put their self-interest ahead of the team? The answer helps identify root causes and solutions that will make a difference. In some cases, the reason might be one of personal style or of being ego-centric. For others it might be a case of simply not understanding team skills and the impact of their behavior on the team. And as you point out, it might be also an issue of the larger culture. How to best address this at an organization level depends on the causes – for lack of awareness, the solution might be training in team skills; for being self-centered, the solution might be coaching; and for lack of support in company, the solution you point out is an excellent one – to look at recognition processes. Another solution would be to create a shared vision that people are excited about and where they see how they can make a contribution.

      You are welcome to share this with your team. That was my hope in posting this – that it might lead to a helpful discussion if shared with team members.

  • Jesse Lyn – you make an excellent point about the need to speak our own truths and to then be willing to hear what others have to say on the same topic. Sometimes, the situation really is all about us, and until we share our truth, we mistakenly believe it is all about them.

  • Jon Mertz

    This is definitely a list to avoid. One to add may be “Don’t sidetrack the conversation, detouring it to nowhere.” Some may call it “a tangent” but this is usually shorter in duration. Sidetracking is like side-stepping; it doesn’t stay on the path of solving the challenge at hand. Thanks! Jon

    • Good point, Jon. I agree. Sometimes this is the most difficult to recognize because you’re still talking about the same topic but the conversation has changed to focusing on a different aspect and the original question/issue gets left behind. “Diversion” is a tactic some people use when the team is moving toward a decision they don’t agree with.

  • Thanks Jesse. Glad I can share. I like the root cause question “What are the reasons people might put their self-interest ahead of the team?”

  • Yes Jesse, ignoring the behavior is just another way of condoning it. If people are not called back to the task and to the team, then they will drift farther and farther off-course. If the team leader as seen as not being able to control, or at least corral this behavior, especially when it is destructive or divisive, then they will lose their credibility and power as the leader of the group.

    Each team member has a duty not to engage in these behaviors, but also call others on it when it is hurting productivity.

    If you disagree with the decisions, etc., speak up. If you can’t go along with the program and you truly have nothing useful to contribute, have the good grace and manners to excuse yourself.

    Teamwork demands maturity.

  • Andy Phillips

    Enjoyed this Jesse. Your list has grown to 7 from 6! I have a number 8 – claiming credit. I’ve seen leaders keep their distance when things look risky then turn up when the project is a big success. Very dispiriting. Also, I was thinking how much different culture affects this list. For example – in the UK joking when things are serious is quite common though goes down badly in the US in my experience.
    As ever a great read this Sunday morning!

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