Do you have Derailers on Your Team?

November 5, 2010 -- Sal Silvester

I was recently facilitating a strategic team building offsite for a senior leadership team in Colorado, and at the break one of the leaders approached me to talk about one of his team members. This particular team member was having a negative impact on the overall team, but the leader was having a difficult time putting his finger on what the team member was doing that was creating such a ripple effect.

On one hand this person had very good technical skills and "was a good producer." But, on the flip side this team member's behaviors were  destroying trust and cohesion on the team.

Many of us know this kind of team member, and many leaders struggle with how to recognize this person and what to do with him or her. I found a great description of this team member in a book I recently read called Senior Leadership Teams. Authors Wageman, Nunes, Burruss, and Hackman describe this person as the "Derailer."

Here's what they had to say.

"Derailers almost always lack critical people skills and competencies. They often are low in both empathy (they tend to be blind to the concerns and needs of the rest of the team) and integrity (there is often a great discrepency between what they say in public and what they do in private). Derailers also tend to have two specific characteristics, relatively rare among senior managers, that cause problems in leadership team dynamics.

(1) A victim mentality. If you ask a Derailer about his career, you get a tale of times when he felt badly treated, his work was unfairly assessed, his contribution not recognized, he was overlooked for promotion that rightfully belonged to him. Years later, the bitterness is still fresh, and the individual expresses little or no recognition that he has in any way contributed to these patterns. And, he has not taken any useful or constructive learning from these disappointments.

(2) A tendency to make blanket negative assessments of other people. Derailer's descriptions of others are filled with sweeping statements: "He's a moron." "She's a rotton manager." A Derailer's conversations are full of disparaging adjectives applied to other people, programs, and ideas. A Derailer
rarely offers compliments or speaks in praise of others."

From my perspective, the main problem with Derailers is that they keep a team from solving problems creatively and getting committed to decisions. They cut down new ideas and they "keep critical issues in their domain off the table" leading to the inevitable and costly silos that we see in so many organizations.

What do you do with Derailers? How do you handle them in your organization or on your team?

More to come from me on this topic in future posts, and I would love to hear your input.

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