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One of my engineers became toxic for the team

Oli Petry

Director Partner Experience Lifecycle at Netflix

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Problem

"I had an engineer in my team who had been here for more than two years without causing any problems, but who became very difficult to manage. There were a couple of problems. First, he was not reliable. When I asked him to do a specific task, I never got a straight answer about why something was or wasn't done. When it wasn't, he always found excuses and put the blame on someone else. He was also talking behind the backs of team members and internal clients a lot, creating a poisonous atmosphere of 'them against us'."

Actions taken

"Over time I noticed that something was wrong, and held more and more one-on-ones with him and with the rest of the team. I asked discrete questions, trying to understand what was going on. I realized that for the first two and a half years he had worked in the company, he had a very structured work. Things had started to fall apart when the needs of the business shifted, causing his job to become less structured. In fact, he was not comfortable working in an environment where he had to prioritize his tasks. We worked a lot together on prioritization and work organization, but his behavior didn't change. It was poisonous to the team atmosphere so I started to document some of the events, gathered some very specific feedback and decided to let him go."

Lessons learned

"Even if I struggled to replace him afterward, I regret not letting him go earlier, because other team members suffered because of his attitude. An employee who is not a good fit is worse than no one. Team effectiveness and throughput actually improved once that person had left, even though we were down a head."


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Oli Petry

Director Partner Experience Lifecycle at Netflix


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