One Bad Apple Can Ruin A Team
January 19, 2016
Building a cohesive and highly functioning team is essential to achieving success in any organization. It is the collective and aligned contributions of the whole team that drives performance and propels you towards success. It seems obvious that you want to build a team full of superstars, and as a result, superstars get a lot of attention. You only have to look to sports to see that all teams want their own Christiano Ronaldo or Peyton Manning. However, we must be equally as cautious about avoiding 'bad apples." Having just one mean, lazy or incompetent person on your team can sabotage performance. It doesn't matter how great your superstars are if they are amongst a bad apple.
Great teams are built by focusing not only on attracting the very best talent you can find, but also removing the rotten and destructive talent from your team.
Bad apples can show up in a variety of forms, all of them extremely dangerous to the health of your team. They distract. They gossip. They drag the moods of others down. A bad apple may be someone who doesn't do his or her fair share of the work. They may be chronically unhappy or emotionally unstable. They may be the person who manipulates or bullies other teammates. No matter how the negative behavior shows up their impact is crippling; a bad apple is like a virus and it will spread through your team, poisoning the morale and creating dysfunction.
It's fairly common to find bad apples on teams. In fact I can think of one bad apple on a team I work with - rotten to the core - but the team has been slow to take corrective action. Unfortunately, when there is one bad apple we often suffer from 'looking the other way' syndrome. It's easier to put our heads in the sand and pretend that it's not happening. We're even more inclined to take the 'ostrich' approach if the bad apple contributes a unique talent or hard to replace skill to the team. We convince ourselves that it's one person; they can't really do that much damage can they?
Yes they can!
One bad apple can upset your entire apple cart. Your whole team's performance can be held back by the behavior and attitude of just one person. Humans are hard wired to detect negativity instead of spotting positivity. When we see a negative event or behavior we naturally pay attention to it. When we experience a negative thought, it generates a larger and longer lasting feeling within us than positive thoughts do. The longer you leave a bad apple on your team the more negativity they will spread.
And you needn't be concerned about removing a bad apple that is also a top performer. Stanford Researchers Charles O'Reilly and Jeffrey Pfeffer shared this insight from a clothing retailer. The company fired a top-performing sales person who they deemed to be a bad apple. After he was gone, none of his remaining colleagues sold as much as he had. But the store's total sales rose by nearly 30%. According to the researchers the lesson was "That one individual brought the others down, and when he was gone, they could do their best."
Leaders should be focused on reducing the risk of hiring bad apples. Be deliberate and cautious in the hiring process. Take your time. Undertake personality tests. Check multiple references (and ones not supplied by the applicant). Ask colleagues to join the interview panel. Explicitly focus on who the candidate really is, not just what they can do. If there is any doubt - even a tiny bit - don't hire them. It's not worth it.
If a bad apple slips through your hiring process it is your responsibility to quickly remove them from your team. You should show little tolerance for those who continue to behave in negative ways. If there is an individual on your team who continually puts themselves ahead of the needs of the team, move on from them. One person has the ability to hold you and your team back from the success you deserve.
Don't let a bad apple rot away at your team.