Cancer In The Clubhouse


In baseball, “Cancer in the Clubhouse” refers to someone on the team with a bad attitude. If someone has an off day, that’s one thing. But persistent negativity can spread quickly like a poison throughout the whole organization. In Dave’s words, it’s that person who “doesn’t want to fit in with the team… and it’s one of the hardest things in business.”

Find Out Why

When it comes to a “bad seed,” the first thing you need to do as a leader explores the issue. If you can analyze what’s going on and find out why it’s happening, that information will help you decide how to take action.

Two questions you need to ask: 

 1. Is there something going on with that person outside work?

A person on your team can easily be affected by negatives coming at them from outside of work. Use your empathy and compassion to inquire, listen, and try to support them. Finances, family, and other stressors can affect performance in a big way, especially now.

2. Is it something inside work?

If it’s something within, you can say to your leadership team “let’s deal with it.” Find out what that person feels, why they feel that way, and what you can do to better their situation. A lot of times a disgruntled employee needs to be heard, and no one has taken the time to listen.

Determine the Action

If they’re a valuable employee and they do a great job running equipment but they’re grouchy and bring everyone down, you have to weigh the pros and cons for your whole team.

Pros and cons might look like this:



He’s moving dirt

He poisons new people

He’s finding gold

Always complaining

He’s making the company money

Has a grouchy attitude every day

He works quickly

Brings the team’s energy down


You’ve got to weigh the pros and cons carefully in order to determine your course of action. The first step to take is always to try and fix the problem. If it’s external—money, family, etc—see if you can provide support. 

If it’s internal to the team, explore ways to resolve the issue. 

Take the Action

If you can’t fix the problem to help that person conform and begin to build others up and be an active part of the team, and all they want to do is hurt people, you’ve got to cut them loose.

As a leader, you owe it to them and to the rest of the team to do that swiftly, decisively, and clearly.

Stay Aware of the Whole Team

Maybe you have already figured out what’s going on and why it is happening, and now it’s time to take action. When you have to let someone go, it is very important to be careful how you handle it.

That person, no matter what issues they are dealing with, will have allies on the team. As a leader, when you take the action of firing someone, you’ve got to be ready to deal with the fallout. It helps to follow a few key principles.

Communicate Clearly

Instead of trying to keep the issue and the action hidden, you must communicate clearly to the entire team about what’s happened and why you’ve arrived at the decision to let someone go. By explaining to them that you did your best to help and support that employee in the hope that they would turn their attitude around, you can help your team gain confidence in your decision and see that you are always trying to make the best decisions you can. 

Don’t Be Wishy-Washy

Not only should you communicate clearly with your whole team, but don’t sit on the decision. Inaction and hesitation communicate a lack of confidence, which muddles the picture for everyone involved and compromises the team’s confidence. Not only that, but it prevents you and your team from making a clean break and moving forward.

Pour into People

Sometimes, negativity can pop up on a team when competition is put forth that is supposed to be motivating but ends up creating a lot of strife.

In Dave’s line of work, he often has two sub-teams—the team who is washing loads of material at the plant, and the mining team who are delivering the loads.

While some competition can be healthy, leaders have to be careful how they posit the competition. If you say to the production team “I think the plant can handle ten more loads per day, let’s do it!” and the plant begins to falter beneath the additional work and grows resentful, that’s unhealthy competition.

But if you get everyone together and say, “What do you guys think, can we up production to ten loads per day? Let’s try it together,” then you have everyone looking out for ways to make that happen, empowered to help each other.

If you get to the end of your trial period and you weren’t able to increase your production by ten loads per day, you reconvene with the whole team to brainstorm what’s preventing you as a team from getting there. Listening to the problems and ideas that your team/s have will give you greater insight and further emphasize the sense of helping each other, not fighting against each other to make the numbers.

Team Culture

Promoting team spirit and a sense of camaraderie is the result of both top-down and bottom-up efforts. When you think as a team, individuals are free to share their ideas about how to improve performance, and the whole group takes on challenges together.

Check out Dave's final lesson, The Miner's Mindset

Read The Miner's Mindset


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