How to Manage a Toxic Volunteer

What are some signs of a toxic volunteer?  They never have anything positive to say.  They suck the life and energy out of the room when they walk in.  They don't just resist change...they fight against it.  They complain about everything.  You constantly having to clean up the mess they cause.  A toxic volunteer spreads dissension among other volunteers and causes damage to the entire team.  Basically, they make your life miserable as the leader.

Any names come to mind?  If not, don't worry.  Stay in children's ministry long enough and you will encounter a toxic volunteer.  So...what should you do when this happens?  How do you manage the toxicity?  

Step One - Sit down with the person and try to find out the root cause of the toxic behavior.  What you're seeing are the symptoms of a much deeper problem.  Find out how the person is doing.  How are things at home, at work and in their personal life?  Are they facing any problems or difficulties?  Are they struggling in any areas?

If the answer is yes, then offer to assist them.  If they accept, this opens the door for you to come alongside them and provide help through counseling, coaching and other resources. 

Step Two - Ask if you can give them feedback.  In many cases, the person is oblivious to their toxic behavior.  You can't expect a person to change if they don't know they need to.  It is important to give them direct and honest feedback so they can understand the problem. Help them see how their behavior is impacting other volunteers and the spirit of the team.

Step Three - Give them clear steps they can take to turn things around.  Don't stop at telling them what the issue is.  Point them to the behavior you'd like to see.  Help them develop a plan to get there.  Give them clearly defined, measurable steps they can take and set a time frame.  By doing this, you're giving them an opportunity to have a more positive impact.

Step Four - If the person refuses your help or doesn't show any improvement in the time frame you set for them, explain what the consequences will be if it continues.  It may mean being removed from a position of influence.  It may mean taking time off from serving until things change.  It may mean stepping down from serving completely. 

Step Five - Have the courage to follow through with the consequences if there is no change.  Your prayer and hope is that God will use this to help the person change.  But not everyone will respond.  Some will be unwilling to change.  You must recognize that you are responsible to people but you are not responsible for people.  If the person is continuing to hurt the morale of the team, then the consequences must be enforced. 

Step Six - Document everything.  Each step of the way, document their offenses, your conversations with them and their responses.  Put in writing their behavior, the steps you took to address it, resources and help you offered and the failure of the person to change.  It is also good to have someone else sit in with you when you meet with the person as a witness to what was said and not said.

Toxic behavior is never an easy thing to deal with, but it must be done.  If you don't, it will spread to the rest of your team.  There's too much at stake not to face it head on.