Team Toxins – Conflict Games 2/3

[This post is one of many sparked by Agile 2015.]

The second game (click here for series start) is from Jake Calabrese‘s workshop “Benefiting from Conflict – Building Antifragile Relationships and Teams“.

It’s based on the belief that each of us has one default “toxic” = “less than helpful” behavior they fall back on in times of conflict and stress.

These 4 toxic behaviours are Stonewalling, Defensiveness, Blaming and Contempt.

Screen Shot 2015-08-30 at 7.51.06 PM
In the original game, everybody writes down their default toxin on an “Hello, I’m …” sticker. Then you go about the room shaking people’s hands, each of you introducing themselves: “Hi, I’m Blaming.” “Nice to meet you Blaming, I’m Contempt.”

We were only 7, not 100 like in Jake’s session, so we “played” it differently. After writing down our main toxin someone suggested that the others try to guess yours, before you reveal it.

Disclaimer: You should only ever assess yourself, not others!

That being disclaimed, we were a fun little, high trust group and everybody opted-in into the other-assessment. So we did it, with very interesting results: For all but 2 (out of 7 people) self- and other-assessment were exact opposites!

For example, I’m a die-hard stonewaller. I’ll bite my tongue for a very long time until I finally erupt in frustration. The others pegged me for Blaming, Defensiveness and Contempt, but no vote for Stonewalling. These differing views were typical.

No clue, if that is because we’re really bad at self-assessment or assessing others or both. In my case the stonewalling is something I try hard to overcome at work, because I’ve seen that it leads nowhere. Nowhere nice, anyway. (In private I don’t try as hard, although it would be helpful.)

In fact, many of the participants remarked that they fall onto different toxins at work and at home. Or that the toxin depends on the person they have the conflict with. Interesting! I haven’t asked but would guess that it depends on the level of trust between the both of them.

Last observation: Although the label “defensiveness” seemed fitting for some people’s behaviors, the descriptions (“Not open to influence”, etc.)  didn’t fit anyone. I wonder if we’ve got a different concept of “defensiveness” or if there’s just many more possible manifestations of it than the given 3.

After the assessments we talked briefly about the antidotes to the toxic behaviors:

Team Toxins - Antidotes

Play this game during a team liftoff so that people will know what behaviour to expect of each other when the shit hits the fan. The game can also inform Working Agreements. You probably don’t need “We stay respectful” in a team of Stonewallers. How about “We openly address things that annoy us, even and especially, very small things”?

Thanks to Jake Calabrese for introducing us to team toxins!


2 Comments Team Toxins – Conflict Games 2/3

  1. Jake

    Corinna, so awesome! Glad you were able to use it and adapt it. Very interesting outcomes and observations. When I ask “when you are stressed, what is your default toxin?” You are exactly right that it might change in different contexts. What I use at home may be different than what I use at work and different relationships will affect it as well (as you note above!). There is also a factor of just “that point in time” and how that plays in. We don’t want to assign these names as our role or identify them as who we are. Asking a slightly different question or asking an hour later might change someones answer.

    Regarding how people see each other… I did cringe when I read that… but then I saw the next line that you were keeping it light and it was a team with a strong relationship! *smile* That sounds like a powerful exercise! Because toxins lead to other toxins, what people may be seeing is an end result. People may not notice someone stonewalling (initially), since it did not affect them as directly (vocally). What they “saw” or heard was what happened after stonewalling. Another consideration is that someone might appear to be doing one first (e.g. stonewalling and then shift blaming), but it could be that they were in blaming all along, but were not vocalizing it. I do find that toxins sometimes present like a bit of a slurry… all mixed up!!
    The last link you included in your post has links to some more articles and background on toxins, the first of which is at:
    Thanks for your great post, it gave me some new ideas and thoughts on the topic!

    1. Corinna Baldauf

      Thank you very much for the comment! It’s great to know that I could give back a little and to hear your take on it!

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