5 Losing Strategies That Will Ruin Team Relationships

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While being on a team can be transformational for many agents, not all teams are thriving, healthy organizations. Over the years, I’ve heard many horror stories, and in almost 100 percent of the cases, it comes down to dysfunctional relationships.

For a team to run effectively, although it is a business, it also needs to function like a family. As a result, the same relational rules that apply to families, and even partnerships such as marriages, also apply to teams. 

Terrence Real, an internationally recognized family therapist, speaker and author provides us with five losing strategies that can erode relationships and damage team dynamics. 

1. Needing to be right

If I am going to be honest from the start, then guilty as charged. A quick discussion with my wife will confirm that I have struggled with this issue for years. Ironically, although I think I am right most of the time, as my wife knows, the need to be right can be very demeaning and destructive.

Terrance Real puts it this way when it comes to this issue in a marriage, stating, “You can be right, or you can be married. What’s more important to you?” 

This definitely applies in group relationships. While there are absolutes in real estate based on contracts where right and wrong can be measured, there is usually plenty of room for flexibility and grace in the interpersonal relationships that form a team. A relationship in which one person is always right means that the other party is typically wrong or ill-advised: this type of system is not a foundation upon which to build a successful and happy relationship.

As much as the temptation is to be right — and, ironically, many who think they are right may often be — the goal is to find solutions and consensus, rather than consistently assert their opinions and will in a domineering manner.  

Taken to its extreme, the need to be right can quickly morph into self-righteous indignation. As an example, if you have ever been behind a driver in the far-left lane going extremely slowly, your need to be right — “This person should not be in this lane; they should be in the slow lane” — can quickly transform into, “This person is in the wrong lane; they are an idiot” — which can lead to aggressive behavior to “help” the offending driver realize they are in the wrong lane and move over. 

Viewed in the context of a team, instead of applying grace to help bring team members to consensus, those with differing opinions are instead given labels such as “stupid.” Instead of working to build community, toxic self-righteousness destroys relationships and undermines the ability of a team to function as a cohesive unit.

Evidence of this behavior would be assigning negative motivations, publicly scolding, passing judgment, bullying or even assigning a demeaning label to a fellow team member. Left to escalate, it can lead to angry and abusive outbursts. 

In this type of environment, it is impossible to effectively serve the needs of the clients. Unfortunately, self-righteous indignation is celebrated in our culture instead of being viewed as toxic and destructive. We have often heard, “I’ve got my rights, this is wrong, I’m angry as _______, I’m not going to take this anymore.” Instead of being recognized for the out-of-control behavior it is, it is frequently applauded. Left to fester, it can even lead to violence. 

2. Controlling others

If your passion as a real estate agent is to deliver the utmost level of customer service, then you will be obsessed with controlling all of the various aspects of the process. This is different, however, than trying to control your team members with manipulation.

In a marriage, this comes out in comments such as, “If you truly loved me, you would ________________,” or “If you do ________________, then I would be happy.” There is a well-known witticism that provides an example of this: “The man might be the head, but the wife is the neck that turns the head.”  

In a team situation, this means you are trying to get any given member of the group to do what you want them to do by means of psychological manipulation. An example would be, “If you really want to fit in with this group, then you need to ____________.” On the flip side, it could be a team member who believes they are invaluable to the team regardless of their actual contribution who tries to use manipulation to ingratiate themselves to the team leadership to remain on the team. 

Do not confuse this with team standards: any successful and healthy team has extensive, well-documented standards, expectations and, in many cases, an actual scoreboard to measure adherence to the standards. In this type of environment, manipulation is not required.

Everyone knows the standards and expectations and coercion is unnecessary. One team leader, when asked by a team member, “What happens if I meet my goals?” simply stated, “You get to stay on the team.” 

The dark side behind trying to control a team member is that it is not about meeting the team standards; it is more about making the person trying to control the other feel good about themselves. This is an insidious form of narcissism and has no place in healthy team relationships. 

3. Unbridled self-expression

One of the problems with reality TV is the impression it gives that uncontrolled outbursts are normal and an accepted way of dealing with problems. Truthfully, anyone who cannot control their temper or other emotions and who believes they can throw up on others emotionally any time they choose is simply acting like a spoiled brat.

This idea flows out of a Freudian mindset that if you do not express yourself adequately, then your bottled-up emotions will, like a steam boiler, keep building in pressure until you explode. While that type of mindset might prevail in a young child, it has no place in mature adult relationships. 

In the context of a couple’s relationship, Terrence Real explains, “Let me reassure you: You will not die if you don’t express yourself whenever a thought pops into your mind. Furthermore, venting is not an inalienable right. You can vent, or you can move toward a solution. Which is more important to you?

“I’m not saying that expressing yourself is always a bad thing, but l am saying that it must be done very carefully and thoughtfully. Also, expressing yourself, even if done well, will not by itself get you more of what you want. In order to do that, you have to let your partner know what you’re asking for and then do your best to help him get there.

“What you need to understand about unbridled self-expression is that telling your partner precisely and in no uncertain terms how horrible you feel about his behavior is probably not the most effective way to engender a generous response.”

This same principle applies to teams. Self-expression is important in maintaining open and honest team relationships, but that expression needs to be constructive and designed to build another person up, not cut them off at the knees.

There is never going to be an environment in a healthy team where you get to dump all of your emotions on someone else just to “get things off your chest.” Healthy relationships operate off of transparent, thoughtful communication that is designed to build up, not tear down. 

4. Retaliation

Popularized by John F. Kennedy in an interview with the American journalist Ben Bradlee, the phrase, “Don’t get mad, get even” has become an iconic American phrase. In a nutshell it means, “Don’t waste your time and energy on getting angry at what someone has done; look instead for a way to pay them back for their misdeeds.” This is better labeled passive-aggressive behavior, which is defined by Real as “the covert expression of anger through withholding.”  

Anyone who has been married for more than a minute will recognize this behavior immediately. Unfortunately, the behavior is not confined to couples — it often shows up in teams as well. When things do not go well in a team setting, and someone in the group feels maligned or the victim in some way, rather than dealing with the issue constructively with open dialogue, they sit back and actually try to sabotage the other party by inaction.

For most of us, our innate human nature demands that someone who wrongs us (in our perception) deserves to be punished. Since an outright attack is not allowed, subversive behavior often takes over. This could work itself out in a passive refusal to engage in group activities or, even worse, allow harm to come to another group member by inaction.

The problem with this type of behavior in a team setting is that the offended party can actually destroy team morale and, when it comes to their interactions with clients, do damage to the entire team’s reputation.  

5. Withdrawal

As couples get deeper into their relationship, one or the other or frequently both realize that some of their hopes and dreams for the relationship are not going to materialize. At times, in the midst of a heated argument, one may erupt in anger and then storm out of the room.

While this is not an acceptable response, it at least does not sever the relationship. A better alternative would be to ask for a pause in the discussion to allow things to cool down, and then reengage at a predetermined time. 

More insidious is the withdrawal that can happen slowly and silently over time. Rather than continue to work to resolve things and come up with an agreeable solution, one or both partners simply withdraw into a self-protective mode. With that withdrawal comes a corresponding lack of passion.

Once that happens, forward movement is impossible, and the relationship begins to atrophy. Ironically, this action is the worst possible solution because it removes the possibility of getting the relationship back on track. 

In a team setting, withdrawal for any reason effectively removes the ability of the team to work in a cohesive manner. To begin, there should never be an environment where a team member gets to forcibly exit a conversation in anger.

If it is clear a disagreement is only going to escalate, a time-out should be called and a re-engagement time and location agreed upon. In some cases, just like marriage counseling, team members can agree to get outside help from a trusted third party who can help get things resolved. Simply leaving is never a valid option. 

Over the years I have seen team members slowly drift away over any number of issues. This does them no good and will cause a rift in the team that can lead to a less-than-stellar team environment and culture. Efforts should be made to reengage these team members.

For those who seem to have irreconcilable differences, the ultimate solution could see them leaving the team and looking for an environment that better resonates with them. In these cases, the leaving is an agreed-upon action by all parties involved, not a diminishing of presence by one person over time. 

Running a team is like leading a family: it takes concerted efforts to keep relationships intact and functioning in a healthy way. The good news is that it is worth the effort and, when everyone is functioning as they should, the rewards for all can truly be amazing.

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