Bad Apple Behaviors

One of my non-technical enjoyments in life is listening to the This American Life podcast, from Public Radio International. It isn’t always my political cup of tea but it is always entertaining.

I was catching up on some past shows recently, when I ran across this episode:

December 19, 2008: “Ruining it For the Rest of Us.”

The prologue to this episode is the first 13 minutes and is a wonderful discussion of team dynamics. I strongly suggest downloading and listening to it.

From the This American Life website:

A bad apple, at least at work, can spoil the whole barrel. And there’s research to prove it. Host Ira Glass talks to Will Felps, a professor at Rotterdam School of Management in the Netherlands, who designed an experiment to see what happens when a bad worker joins a team. Felps divided people into small groups and gave them a task. One member of the group would be an actor, acting either like a jerk, a slacker or a depressive. And within 45 minutes, the rest of the group started behaving like the bad apple.

How many of us have met one of these people on a team we have worked in? How many of us have committed the sin of being one of these people at some point in our careers?

The Jerk

The jerk is someone who attacks or insults others. The jerk is a voice of derision and operates by tearing down others. Tag lines of the jerk include:

  • Are you kidding me?
  • Have you ever actually taken a course?
  • Do you have any idea what you’re doing?
  • Lots of eye rolls

The Slacker

The slacker consistently endeavors to do less work. Typical slacker behaviors include:

  • Lean back, feet up
  • Texting another person in a meeting
  • Commonly says, “Whatever.”
  • Often overheard saying, “I don’t care.”
  • Will ultimately be heard claiming, “This job doesn’t matter. Let’s just get it done.”
  • Lots of eye rolls

The Depressive Pessimist

A depressive pessimist is a doom and gloomer. This is the person on the team most often nicknamed “Eyore”. Common Eyore traits include:

  • Head down on the table/desk
  • State that the effort is unenjoyable
  • Overheard saying, “This work won’t matter when we’re done anyway.”
  • Body language slackens and hunches down
  • Lots of eye rolls

Some bad apple statistics

The following statistical findings were claimed in the study discussed in the segment.

  • A team with a bad apple member will perform 30-40% worse than a team with no bad apples.
  • The presence of a bad apple on the team results in less communication between others.
  • People mirror bad behavior in working with others.

And finally, it comes to this: A team isn’t often elevated by its best member, but depressed by its worst.