One Bad Apple Lowers Team Performance Up to 40%
“[Will] Felps estimates that teams with just one deadbeat, downer, or asshole suffer a performance disadvantage of 30 to 40 percent compared to teams that have no bad apples.” (Bob Sutton in Good Boss Bad Boss.)
Will Felps describes three types of bad apples:
- Jerks. Embarrass or insult people. Other people’s ideas are inadequate.
- Slackers. Sending texts in meetings. Saying, “Whatever.”
- Depressive pessimists. Depressives are doubters. They put their heads down on the table, for example.
Teams with bad apples argued more and take on characteristics of bad apple behavior. They insult each other more frequently and give up sooner, for example.
(Will Felps on This American Life.)
Bad apples spoil teams and healthy team dynamics is more important than top talent.
Top performance requires teams that work.
5 behaviors of teams that work:
- Everyone on the team talks and listens in roughly equal measure, keeping contributions short and sweet.
- Members face one another, and their conversations and gestures are energetic.
- Members connect directly with one another—not just with the team leader.
- Members carry on back-channel or side conversations within the team.
- Members periodically break, go exploring outside the team, and bring information back.
(Research by MIT reported in HBR)
7 practical suggestions:
- Remove or marginalize bad apples.
- Put all the bad apples on one team, if you can’t remove them. Don’t try to dilute their toxicity by spreading them over several teams.
- Work on team dynamics, not just getting things done.
- Encourage team members to talk to each other, not to the person at the head of the table. “Bob, what does Mary’s suggestion make you think?”
- Send team members out to learn from other organizations.
- Divide teams into small groups that talk to each other.
- Prepare quiet people to make contributions. “Wilma, would you come prepared to give your thoughts on item #2 on our agenda?”
How might leaders build teams that work?
More: 7 Ways to Take Responsibility for Team Success
Excellent suggestions, Dan. Having survived cancer twice, I have come to view “bad apples” like cancer cells. They must be cut out and discarded before they metastasize. Fortunately, I didn’t have to deal with many “bad apples.”
Thanks Jim. Great illustration. YES! if you can avoid them, by all means do so. If you can remove them, don’t wait.
Who would say, “I’d like to have 3 more months with this cancer inside me?”
2. Love the idea of putting all the bad apples in their own team, they will be so busy outdoing each other, that every one else can get on with the real work. Excellent idea!
Having a strong culture in the organisation can help stump out bad apples.
Another type of “bad apple” will take this article as license to label and shame people. Bad Apple. Cancer Cell. Toxic.
Sometimes other ideas are inadequate and the dissenter is right, and they need to work on their style (sometimes a lot). Sometimes people have learned to say “whatever” because they’ve been painted over so many times by leader-enabled groupthink that they’ve given up. Sometimes people are depressed because they’re–DEPRESSED–and are pushing through as best they can in an environment that equates mental illness with a “lack of commitment.” Remember Sutton’s counsel–we all have our days, only a few are “certifiable.” Please save labels for the persistently unteachable.
I like Robert’s reminder not to “label”. I have seen situations where a “bad apple” was moved to another situation and they blossomed.
Yes, I know there are people that appear incurable from their toxic behaviour, but be careful how fast you judge. I read this raptitude post today that resonated with me on this: http://www.raptitude.com/2018/04/why-the-other-side-wont-listen-to-reason. We are wired for survival and therefore we judge quickly to protect our own tribe. So-called ‘Toxic’ behaviour is just not how our tribe behaves and therefore it is a threat .
I’m really intrigued by the idea of putting all the “bad apples” on one team. It would be great to have a whole post dedicated to this topic. Do you think moving them all to the same team would help improve their performance or are you simply moving them to prevent them from bringing the whole group down? What if it’s really obvious that the entire team is low performers? Maybe that’s okay because it might motivate some of the team members to improve their performance. I’m curious to hear more of your thoughts on this strategy!
Laura, although an intriguing idea, I think the downsides of putting all the “bad apples” on the same work group would be worse than the upsides, especially, if they discover that was the reason for putting them together. Could lead to a discrimination problem.
Bad apples need to be dealt with on a one-on-one way basis with a severe ultimatum if they cannot adjust their behavior.
I can attest to the significant productivity improvements that can be realized after terminating a “bad apple” or two. While I’m typically saddened when an employment relationship results in a termination, I consider the net benefits to the organization as a whole to be far greater in the long run.
Great suggestions for dealing with bad apples. Their ability to affect an organization so negatively highlights the importance of trying to avoid hiring them in the first place. As Gary Hamel points out, once you start letting B-level people in, the A-level people no longer wish to work with them resulting in more and more B-level people being brought into the organization as opposed to more A-level people (2007). This in turn results in the quality of workers overall declining over time. It is important to have standards that avoid letting bad apples in, to avoid all sorts of headaches down the road. Obviously, this can’t be avoided all of the time.
Hamel, G., & Breen, B. (2007). The future of management. Boston (Mass.): Harvard Business School.