8 Characteristics of People Who Don’t Fit Well on a Team

Have you ever heard the phrase “odd person out”?

It means you don’t fit. You don’t measure up for some reason. You are excluded. Being odd person out can hurt if for some unfair reason one is descriminated against.  

While I certainly can’t claim discrimination the way many people understand the term, I’ve been odd man out numerous times. I’ve been there because I’m pastor at times. People assume I can’t also be fun – or I would judge their activities – so there are many social events I don’t get invited to attend. I remember feeling this way as the only person from a single-parent home among my friends in high school. 

We’ve all been excluded at some point in life for some reason. 

It’s a bad thing to be “odd person out” by no choice of your own, but some people actually place themselves in the position by the decisions they make and the way they respond to others. It happens all the time in team dynamics.

Some people seem to choose to be ” odd person out”. The choices they make cause them not to fit well on a particular team.

I’ve led or worked with many teams and whether there are a few people or many on who make up the team, there can often be one who chooses to be “odd person out”. And, in fairness, it may or may not be a conscious decision they’ve made – they simply don’t fit well with the rest of the team, but they got there by some of their own decisions.

If unaddressed it can be dangerous for organizational health. Trying to build consensus or form team spirit becomes more difficult. Morale is infected by the intentional “odd person out”. Spotting this as the problem early can avoid further issues down the road.

In this post, I’ll address some ways this occurs or symptoms of the issue. I’m writing from the perspective of the one who doesn’t fit well on the team. 

Here are 8 ways to be the “odd person out” on a team:

Be resistant to every change – Whenever a new idea is presented, always be the first to say it won’t work. You don’t have to have a reason. Just oppose it.

Always be negative – about everything – See the glass half-empty. Always. There’s nothing good about this place – leader – idea – day – life.

Always have an excuse – It’s not your fault. It’s someone else’s fault. Always.

Never have the solution – It’s your job to point out problems, not to help solve them. In fact, you don’t care to build – you’re here to tear down. And, you intend to do your job well.

Hold opinions until after something isn’t working well – Make sure everyone knows you were opposed to the idea from the start. You can clearly see how things should have been done. And, you make sure everyone knows. 

Talk behind people’s back – Rather than going to the source – it stirs more drama if you talk about someone rather than to someone. Of course,  you talk behind the leader’s back too, though your usually extremely pleasant in their presence. 

Refuse to participate in any team social activities – Who needs them, right? Why would you want to hang out with people you work with? You might get to know them – and they might get to know you. 

Don’t buy into the vision – And, actually, this translates into working against the vision. You may even have a vision of your own. 

Of course, these are written with a hint of sarcasm, but these people distance themselves from others on the team by the way they respond on the team. Have you ever worked with anyone like this?

As you read the list, do you spot the “odd person out” on your team?

It should be noted, this doesn’t mean these are bad people. Many times, I’ve learned, these people were injured in some way previously. It could have been on the job or in their personal life. They may have been passed over for a promotion or they began to feel taken advantage of in some way. They may have social disorders which need to be addressed. They may just really be negative about their own life and bring this attitude into their professional life. Often, understanding why they feel as they do can help address their performance on the team. 

I should also note, I’m not advocating always agreeing with a team. It’s okay to have different opinions, challenge the system – and even the leader. Differing viewpoints help make us all better. The key is to do so in a spirit of cooperation, not a spirit of disruption. You don’t have to be the odd person out – even if you’re different from everyone else. In fact, don’t be.

What characteristics would you add of a person who purposefully doesn’t fit on a team?

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Ron Edmondson

Author Ron Edmondson

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Join the discussion 21 Comments

  • jimpemberton says:

    Fabulous list!

    The first thing that comes to mind is that there are sometimes legitimate problems with leaders or other coworkers. Also, I know there are sometimes simply completely dysfunctional teams. There is a wise way to handle these situations rather than falling into some of these behaviors.

    First, if you are a Christian, you should be praying for your supervisor, peers, and subordinates. You shouldn’t complain without praying first, and if you pray, then you tend to be more constructive when criticism needs to be verbalized.

    Second, the golden rule works just as well vertically as it does horizontally in work relationships. If you have a beef with your boss, then lead up in the way that you wish your boss would lead down. I doubt you want your boss to put you down, be unreasonable, or talk ill about you behind your back. So don’t do that to him or her. If you want your subordinates to be loyal to you, then be loyal to them.

    Third, try to compensate for your teams weaknesses for the sake of the purpose of the team. Does that mean that you could end up pulling other people’s load? Yes. But if you are successful, then you will shine brightly when it comes to moving up. It may seem like people don’t notice the effort you are making, but typically your efforts will not go unnoticed.

    Fourth, there is a legitimate tension between being a budding leader and also serving as a subordinate when it comes to vision. If you are a subordinate and yet have a different vision from your boss, then you must subordinate your vision to his/hers. Present your ideas and see if they are something that the boss wants to do. Otherwise, use your ability to vision in your area of responsibility in such as way that you serve the boss’ vision. In this way, you will be identified as desirable leadership material.

  • Casey says:

    I appreciate this post author for mentioning such important piece of information. Building up a team is requires lot of hard work and to get rid of odd man from an effective team above provided those 8 ways are highly effective indeed. Thanks.

  • Brent Dumler says:

    Great job on this post, Ron. I love the 'never have a solution' point. I've worked with this person. I think people who do this honestly don't have the organization's best interests in mind.

  • Guest says:

    I’ve been the odd man out when other “key” team members resembled your above list. I don’t like to complain; I look for solutions. I don’t make a habit of talking about others; I choose to love and pray for difficult people instead. I save critical words until they are constructive. I’m not negative. A positive outlook keeps me energized and inspired.

  • Eric says:

    How about when you're the visionary Odd Man Out? That might be an entirely different but equally interesting post.

  • Michael says:

    Truth hurts.

  • bryankr

    Like Joshua, I was the odd man out, and it was because I think outside the box. I don't remember making the same choice he made in his thinking about it, but I do remember saying to myself " This is me. If they don't like that, why did they invite me?! They have a choice, either take what I have to offer, or not. " i simply refused to be pushed out because they didn't like the way I think. I won't say it didn't hurt, because it did; what I will say is that I am just entirely too stubborn to take it lying down! I just got tired of having to live my life according to their narrow vision.
    They still don't , entirely, like the way I do things, but now they listen before they disregard it. I guess that's a step forward.

  • Keith Wissman says:

    This post wasn’t what I was expecting at all. Everyone at one point or another has run into a person/people who are described as in the post.

    However, “Odd Man Out” can be a helpful concept if it is in the spirit of:

    – we can disagree, but not be disagreeable

    – mutual accountability

    – helping people/team “see around corners”

    – avoid hurting people unnecessarily

    – avoid making the same mistakes over and over

    – not only pointing out weak spots but potential solutions

    I do have to admit that it has been very rare in my 40 year “career” that this expansive concept has been welcome and embraced. But when it was, it was magical.

    • ronedmondson says:

      Great thoughts. Yes, disagree, but not be disagreeable. Love that. The emphasis is on the desire to disrupt over the desire to make things better. I'm often “odd man out” on my team, because I love big ideas, but hopefully I will do so in a spirit of cooperation, not a spirit of disruption. (I'm actually going to edit this some to make that point clearer.)

  • Joshua says:

    I was the odd man out not by choice for many years. It hurt me deeply, to the point where I chose the role willingly out of self-defense, and familiarity. I can say from experience that there is no difference between these two, and that ultimately, they are both your own doing, and undoing. Now, I choose to be the "odd man in," being the creative, different thinker that got me excluded for not conforming. Now, I've figured out how to allow that same penchant for the obtuse and creative, to turn me into an "out of the box" thinker, trouble-shooter, and problem solver.

    The difference? It was changing my thinking from short-circuit to short-cut. I am a shortcut. I can help people get where they want to go faster, and in better shape, and in the business sense, usually cheaper. That's a great place to be. But, it took being the "odd man out" for many years to give me the outside in perspective that now makes me so effective.

    What would I have changed? I suppose in the long run, nothing. God used this for His glory, and who is this clay to rebuff the potter? But, in those painful moments I might have traded it for a friend who didn't care about my curmudgeonly ways. Ultimately, I didn't have to change the way I thought, I just had to change the way I thought about it. Having that perspective can be a powerful tool, if you use it to help people achieve rather than breaking down.

    • ronedmondson says:

      Great, honest feedback Joshua. Thank you.

    • Keith Wissman says:

      very good info, thank you!

    • Rachel says:

      Wow, I love your perspective! And I see that as a call to be that friend that you would have like to have who loved and accepted you just as you were. Because through the unconditional love of a friend, God can do amazing life changing things. __Also, I needed to hear "who is this clay to rebuff the potter?" Definitely need to keep that in my head as I wish my own healing process would come along quicker!

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