'Bad apple' team member can slash productivity

'Bad apple' team member can slash productivity

One underperforming team member can drag down the performance of the entire team, according to new 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.”

It's easy to think there's no changing those least-productive team mates, but according to a different study from Zenger/Folkman found, managers give up too soon on under-performing employees.

“Our evidence shows that managers are giving up far too soon on their employees, making them less productive than they could be, exposing their companies to unnecessary risks from thefts and leaks in the process, and inflating turnover costs,” company president Joseph Folkman said.

The study looked at the 6% of employees who shows the lowest level of job satisfaction and commitment, then narrowed their search to workers whose managers were also overseeing some of the most satisfied workers.

Folkman suggested engaging with those employees to encourage them and build trust. Managers often focused on high-performers, to the detriment of low performers who felt unsupported and ignored.