'Bad apple' team member can slash productivity

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One underperforming team member can drag down the performance of the entire team, according to research.
The notion of ‘one bad apple spoiling the barrel’ was tested in research by Benjamin Walker from the University of New South Wales.
The study found the conscientiousness and level of dedication of the least productive team member set the performance standard for the entire group. The results were determined by taking 158 students and dividing them into 33 teams.
“We found that a single lazy person ­– someone low in proactivity – drags the team down, reducing its satisfaction and performance,” said Walker.  
Previous research has examined the average level of particular personality traits within teams. However, this research showed that just a single member low in a particular personality trait can reduce performance and satisfaction.
Impulsiveness was seen as another potential negative personality trait, but the research found a single impulsive team member did not reduce the overall satisfaction and performance in a team.
“It was previously thought that the average level of a personality trait in a team defined its success,” Walker said.
“These findings show the person who contributes the least has a huge impact. Even if on average the rest of the team is pulling their weight, they won’t be able to compensate for that member and they won’t be happy about it.”
  • Bernie Althofer EGL I ASSESSMENTS PTY LTD on 23/06/2011 1:59:28 PM

    A chain is only as strong as its weakest link. For many years, people have to subscribed to the belief that TEAM means Together Each Achieves Much. However, given that teams are full of I's, defining the weakest member can be problematic when each of the I's believes someone else is the weakest link. Perception about individual strengths and weaknesses can create a range of issues that require careful management. However, understanding personality and temperament types can provide managers with some understanding of the clashes that can occur in workplaces. Perhaps when the 'team' has a greater understanding of why an individual is perceived to be the weakest link, strategies can be developed so that the stronger members of the team can bring the 'weakest' member up to 'speed'. The so-called 'weakest' member may have particular skills or knowledge in a particular area. The secret skill that the 'team leader' has to develop is one that helps cultivate that knowledge for the benefit of the team.

  • Bernie Althofer on 11/09/2012 1:01:15 PM

    In some recent discussions regarding dysfunctional teams, the role of executives and managers in creating a work place environment conducive to diminished productivity was discussed. In some smaller organisations, the role of a CEO and their Deputy can have a direct impact on the productivity of key personnel. For example, a key person may have several roles to perform to support the CEO, the Deputy and other personnel with the office environment. This person may find it extremely frustrating, demoralising and disheartening when there appears to be a lack of planning, they are advised of substantial meetings at short notice (with increased expectations of worker longer hours at short notice), others within the environment don't seem to have the same pressures being applied, and resources keep breaking down at critical moments. In the mind of some, the weakest member can be the CEO or Deputy who either does not listen or hear of the difficulties being faced. Ultimately, in situations like this, the key person breaks under pressure or goes and plays in the traffic. The CEO and Deputy then turn around and say "Why did that happen?" The CEO or Deputy may have many issues on their plate, but they also need to aware of the pressures being placed on those closest to them. Some situations are exacerbated when the organisation has very few documented policies and procedures to cover regular processes. This makes it more difficult when a key person has to step into someone else's shoes to take up the slack. In situations like this, they spend most of their time trying to find out how the job is supposed to be done, instead of actually doing the job. Others within the workplace environment then start to perceive the key person as not being a team player when the distress being caused on them, creates a situation where they adversely react to even minor inquiries. I suspect that in some cases there may be some bad apples as identified in the research. However, unless the causal factors are also identified, then it becomes difficult to develop strategies or solutions that can create change.

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