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Team-Building: When Grouches Attack
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Team-Building: When Grouches Attack - Executive Leadership Articles

Team-Building: When Grouches Attack

Executive Leadership Articles

Team-Building: When Grouches Attack

It would be nice if everyone on the team got along swimmingly, planning weekly potluck lunches and seeking more opportunities to collaborate on meaningful tasks. When the office vibe is friendly and positive, the work seems to do itself. Everyone does his or her assigned task, then looks around for ways to help others with theirs. Managers look and feel like geniuses.

What to do, then, about the office grouch, that person who seems to have complaints about everything, who returns greetings with a grunt, who rolls his eyes and sighs when anyone suggests something remotely touchy-feely during a meeting? Obviously, we’re assuming that the grouch does his job competently in all other ways (we’re going to make the grouch a hypothetical man for this article, but in real life it could as easily be a woman), or he would have been cut loose a long time ago. It’s because of his competence that he’s tolerated, and the world is full of happy, friendly people who can barely tie their shoelaces. The competent grouch is neither easy to work with nor easy to let go.

Online advice for dealing with the office grouch goes all over the place, which seems to indicate that nobody’s really got the surefire way of hanging on to a solid worker while rehabilitating his interpersonal flaws. Some suggest counseling, personal goal-setting, or repeated meetings to deal with personal stickiness. Others take a more zen approach: you can’t change others, but you can change yourself. Rather than trying to alter another’s personality, alter the way it affects you.

Call us naïve, but we have yet to see the office grouch who can’t eventually find a comfortable place in a healthy office where he’s valued for his work and for his quirky grouchiness. The grouchiness often becomes a recurring theme, a kind of inside joke where team members feel comfortable accepting that the grouch is a grouch and that’s okay with everyone else. The key word here is “eventually.” We’re reminded of how the Colorado River over thousands of years carved the Grand Canyon, a beautiful work of nature’s art still being created. The question is whether you are the rocky earth being eroded by the persistent grouchy river, or you are the cheerful river patiently eroding defensive layers of grouchy stone.

Be the river. And if necessary, keep coaching your team to be the river while coaching your grouch to be the river too. The grouch needs to tolerate the rest of the team’s silly ideas, but the rest of the team must tolerate the grouch’s disposition. Over time, the river and the become elements of the same beautiful landscape. We’ve seen it time and again: it may take years, but there will come a day when your “good morning” is returned with “good morning” rather than stony silence.

Diversity in the workplace is to be cherished, and as we’ve said multiple times in this space, diversity isn’t just about skin color and sexual preference. It’s about different backgrounds, values, approaches, personalities, skills, and dispositions, and as long as our differences don’t actively hinder us from our meaningful work, they should be celebrated. The competent office grouch can be a test of our tolerance, but most values worth celebrating are strengthened by rigorous testing!


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Team-Building: When Grouches Attack - Executive Leadership Articles

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