Monday, December 22, 2008

Proof that one bad apple spoils the bunch

Many thanks to Coach George Seff for passing along a link to a recent NPR story about new research showing how "bad apples" negatively influence the performance of teams.

The researcher set out to determine if "one person in the workplace could ruin a workplace. Not just disrupt the way people get along... but could one person actually lower productivity. Does one bad apple spoil the bunch?"

In his research on "bad apple behaviors," Will Felps, a management professor, identified "three personality types, three types of behavior that seem to hurt group dynamics and group performance."

According to Felps, they are:

  1. "Someone who is a real jerk, who attacks or insults others."
  2. "Someone who's a slacker, who does less than they can."
  3. "Someone who's a depressive pessimist."

If your team or group includes one of these types, "there's a good chance that they might spoil the barrel."

Over the years, research has found that groups dominate individuals. "There's tons of research going back decades demonstrating that people conform to group values and norms."

But in his research, Felps found just the opposite.

"Invariably, groups that had [the bad apple] would perform worse. And this despite the fact that were people in some groups that were very talented, very smart, very likeable."

In his studies, Phelps found that the bad apple's behavior "had a profound effect," with the bad apple's group "performing 30 to 40 percent worse than groups without a bad apple."

On teams with the bad apple, "people would argue and fight, and they would not share their relevant information, they would communicate less."

Even worse, team members would begin to take on the bad apple's characteristics. When the bad apple was a jerk, other team members would begin acting like a jerk. When he was a slacker, they began to slack, too, and so forth.

And they wouldn't act this way just in response to the bad apple. They'd act this way to each other in "sort of a spillover effect."

If you're a veteran coach or manager, you've likely seen this in teams or groups you've worked with. Based on my experience, it's absolutely true. A bad apple really can spoil the bunch.