Q: The team that I'm on does not get along well. When challenges come along, people point fingers and blame each other instead of resolving issues. I'm not in charge, so there's only so much I can do. Any suggestions?
A: Set a positive example and take a stand against negativity on the team.
Take a moment to settle down, and let any emotions related to the situation ease. Focus on your breathing and relax into a state of calmness. From that perspective, reflect on the feelings that you have related to your team's dynamics. Anxiety, frustration, anger — all might stem from experiences in your past. Try to recognize why this situation brings up these reactions.
Another way to think about it: Are you more sensitive to the dynamics than others on your team? Would others see constructive conflict where you see blame? If so, put your attention on managing your responses. If, however, your perspective is more widely shared, more outer action will be called for.
Get more specific about the interactions of concern. There is a difference between disagreeing with an idea and shutting people down. Know exactly which behaviors you observe and what you would like to see changed.
Notice how the team lead is managing the situation. If you have a conflict-averse person in charge, issues may go unchecked. Consider your relationship with this person, and ways that you could influence the team. Identify other people who may be allies in helping shift the tone.
Make plans for ways to address the situation, both offline and in the moment.
Try having a conversation with your boss, in which you make an observation as neutrally as possible, and ask if there are ways you could help shift the tone. "I've noticed that people on the team are very critical of each other recently; is there anything I can do to help conversations stay on track?"
Have a similar conversation with like-minded colleagues, brainstorming ways to shift the conversation and ease tension. This would also give you support with the stress that this type of dynamic can cause.
Then, during meetings, be ready with some defusers. You could steer the conversation to the business problem: "Let's get back to business and figure out how to get this project done on time."
Humor can help in many stressful situations, as can acknowledging that everyone is feeling pressured. If fingers are being unfairly pointed at you, stand up for yourself, and then refocus on the issue at hand.
Remember to take care of yourself. You can develop your own resilience through choices you make related to your health and well-being. Surround yourself with positive people and build in fun outside of work.
If the negativity persists, assess the long-term possibilities. You may decide that the atmosphere is toxic for you; this may lead to exploration of other options.
You may be able to influence the external; you can certainly manage your reactions to keep a negative team from bringing you down.
Liz Reyer is a credentialed coach with more than 20 years of business experience. Her company, Reyer Coaching & Consulting, offers services for organizations of all sizes.