A study confirms that just one person can really screw up your team. A toxic team member can create group team wide dysfunction and eventually a breakdown. We have all experienced something similar, a difficult person that waste almost all our energy and time.

There are many personalities that define what kind of guy the “difficult” guy can be. From the passive-aggressive to the controller, the anti-establishment guy, the arrogant etc. I’m sure you can relate.

So, if you must deal and work with this kind of person, how does that affect directly you and your team?

Most people just tolerate them and hope someone in a higher position deal with the person instead of dealing with him self’s.

Will Felps, Associate Professor of Organization & Personnel Management at Rotterdam School of Management wrote a paper titled “How, When, And Why Bad Apples Spoil The Barrel: Negative Group Members And Dysfunctional Groups“.

The paper talks about when, why and how the behavior of one negative group member can have influence on an entire team.  Basically, as the tittle indicates. He conducted a social experiment which consisted in inserting groups of four college students into teams. Each team had to compete against the other solve management problems. Without them knowing of course (the team) that they students were all actors.

There are 3 main personalities that can make things harder for you team. He decided to establish and used:

The Depressive Pessimist

This is the guy who is always complaining. About what? everything. All the tasks seem unpleasant for him.  and he is always making statements doubting the group’s ability to succeed.

The Jerk

He’s always right. You’re always wrong.

The Slacker
Will say “whatever”, and “I really don’t care.”

The results:

Most research updated assumed that groups had the ability to overcome bad apples.

The power of the group would override the bad apple to change their behavior. But that’s not what Felps proved.

Groups that had the bad apple performed worse about 30 to 40% than the groups without.

The ability to get along, share work and collaborate significantly dropped. Productivity is clearly lower.

Now an interest fact: Other teams with bad apples in them start acting the same way. It’s completely influential the way you act at work. For example, when somebody was a jerk the others team members start acting like a jerk.

And so on…

One person’s bad behavior has a dangerous effect on someone’s else behavior. That is an important lesson to learn.

But like as in everything in life there is exceptions. In this study one group performed very well despite having a bad apple.

The difference was that this group had a leader with strong skills in diffusing conflict.

What is one of the key roles in Scrum? That doesn’t remind you something?