You are likely to be familiar with the term “one bad apple spoils the barrel”. The meaning here is that the rot in the bad apple will spread to all the other apples in the barrel, thus destroying the barrel of apples.

What happens when we apply this logic to people in a team? What is the “rot in the apple” behaviour that is not in keeping with the team environment? It turns out that someone has done the research!

Dr William Phelps and Prof Terence Mitchell published a paper titled – “How, When & Why Bad Apples Spoil the Barrel: Negative Group Members & Dysfunctional Groups.

Prompted by an experience his wife had in her workplace, Dr Phelps and his collaborator went about researching the topic. To do this, they needed to define a negative person on this context. They defined them as those team members that do not do their fair share of the work, who are consistently and persistently unhappy or those who bully or attack others. It is important to note here that people who challenge the status quo or play devils advocate are not necessarily negative people. In fact, they can be a very positive influence on a team.

They found that teams with a bad apple were more likely to experience destructive conflict, poor communication and less collaboration. Team members would frequently feel anxious, defensive or frustrated by the experience of being in the team. This is not good news for team performance or the wellbeing of the team.

Furthermore, as a result of the negative behaviours and emotions, trust levels are destroyed, culture is damaged and people are very likely to disengage from their work and the team. Optimal performance cannot be attained in these circumstances. In other words, this is likely to be costing the business a significant amount of money, lost performance and good people. Having a bad apple on a team can negatively impact the performance of the team by 30 – 40%.

In the course of our work, this is a question we often ask – can you identify any bad apples in your organisation? The answer is very rarely, no. For many leaders, it is easier to make excuses and bury their heads in the sand than to face the discomfort of dealing with the situation. It is understandable that this happens, but it’s not useful and can be remedied. Of course, sometimes, the leader is the bad apple too.

The fact is, negative behaviour outweighs positive behaviour. It spreads like a virus, just like the rot in the apple.

There is a big, hairy, important question for you – what are you going to do about the bad apple in your organisation? Are you going to let the virus spread or face the uncomfortable truth? Left unresolved, it will fester – and costs will continue to mount.

These are issues that we deal with at Performance Nerds. We have the expertise to help meet the challenge you are facing and develop your people into the high performance space, in a sustainable way.

Let us help you be the hero for your team?