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Building High Performance Teams – Managing the Mood Hoovers

What is a mood hoover? A mood hoover is a moaner who sucks the energy out of a room. We’ve all come across them. They bring negativity to any situation. They might be technically competent at their role but they are the poison for your team’s success. In my previous business we called them “Eeyores” – after the pessimistic grey donkey in Winnie the Poo. Whatever you call them, never underestimate how easily they can bring a whole team to its knees.

No matter how great your vision, project, or start-up, if you want it to succeed, the “energy sappers” either need to change their attitude or you need to move them on.

In 1998 Sir Clive Woodward took the England Rugby Team to train with the Royal Marines. Afterwards he asked the instructors for their honest assessment of the players in their platoons. One of the senior officers was brutally honest:

“There are men in your squad whom we wouldn’t go into battle with…………’s not about skills. It’s about attitude and the effect on the team. One wrong team player can sap all of the energy from the group”.

He realised he needed a team without any “energy sappers”, he needed “energisers”. He defined the roles as following.

Energy Sappers - Sap v. bleed, deplete, devitalise, drain, erode, exhaust, undermine, weaken, wear down.

EnergisersEnergy n. drive, efficiency, exertion, fire, force, intensity, power, stamina, strength.

His final word on it was “I think energy sappers are the biggest obstacle to success”.

Often compared to Woodward, another leader with no time for the mood hoover is Sir Dave Brailsford, arguably the UK’s current best coach, who tells a very indiscreet story of Sir Alex Ferguson’s advice to him on team building’s first rule: “get rid o’ the ****”.

Brailsford elaborated further:

“The big danger is having people with the wrong attitude and behaviour. They could be dishonest, in the worst case, or they could be very traditional; they could say, ‘What you’re doing is bullsh*t, I’ve been doing this for 20 years; I know what I’m doing’. That type of attitude is disastrous in a team. And we had it at Team Sky.” (Moore, Richard (2013-05-08). Mastermind: How Dave Brailsford Reinvented the Wheel)

You need to be a strong coach and leader, as it’s obviously a lot tougher in business than it is in sport. After all, in sport all you have to say to people is “you are not selected” and the place will be immediately filled with someone equally competent. It may also seem expensive to replace technically adept members of a team; however, it will probably end up far more expensive and detrimental to your success in the long run to keep them.

5 Point Plan: Managing Mood Hoovers

  1. Make sure everyone is aware of the vision.
  2. Make sure everyone knows what constitutes an energiser/”energy sapper”.
  3.  Make it clear that your vision cannot work with weak links.
  4.  If it continues, meet in private and discuss it openly, try to turn them around and see if there are underlying issues.
  5.  If it will not change, manage out before the whole team is dragged down.


Scott Hutchinson is the Principal for Food & Drink at Interim Partners.

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