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:

  1. Jerks. Embarrass or insult people. Other people’s ideas are inadequate.
  2. Slackers. Sending texts in meetings. Saying, “Whatever.”
  3. 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:

  1. Everyone on the team talks and listens in roughly equal measure, keeping contributions short and sweet.
  2. Members face one another, and their conversations and gestures are energetic.
  3. Members connect directly with one another—not just with the team leader.
  4. Members carry on back-channel or side conversations within the team.
  5. Members periodically break, go exploring outside the team, and bring information back.

(Research by MIT reported in HBR)

7 practical suggestions:

  1. Remove or marginalize bad apples.
  2. 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.
  3. Work on team dynamics, not just getting things done.
  4. 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?”
  5. Send team members out to learn from other organizations.
  6. Divide teams into small groups that talk to each other.
  7. 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