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Could one person lower productivity? January 19, 2009

Posted by Darth Sidious in Employee Types.

I was recently listening to an Earth podcast from a public radio show called This American Life, and the subject was regarding a study of how one person could lower productivity (the full podcast can be heard here).

Standard management theory says that groups are powerful. Individuals (at the same level) tend to conform to the group’s values and norms, vs. the other way around. Especially to the point of lowering everyone’s productivity.

They found that to be true, but 3 character traits have the potential ability to buck that trend:

  • Someone who insults/attacks/embarrasses others
  • Makes statements that work performed by others is inadequate, but offers no constructive alternatives.
  • Declares that everyone should listen to them.
  • Slackers (those that don’t deliver on their end of the bargain)
  • Makes statements of: “Whatever”, “I really don’t care”, “Let’s just get this over with”
  • Depressive Pessimists
  • Perpetually negative people, everything is wrong.
  • Makes statements that they don’t like what they’re doing/un-enjoyable.
  • Makes statements doubting the group’s ability to succeed

The study found that groups with such people performed 30%-40% worse (on the exact same project) compared to groups that didn’t. Changes occurred in the way people treated each other:

  • Team members argued and fought more often; not just the bad apple but to each other.
  • Not share relevant information, hoard/control information.
  • Communicated less.

The team tended to take on their characteristics of those people. It wouldn’t be just in response to those people, but also to become like them. If that one bad apple believed that the work was unenjoyable, the others started thinking that too.

But teams with the exact same task that didn’t have the bad apple found the work to be challenging and interesting.

Initial theory was that the best predictor of how successful a team will be is based on good the best people in the team were. It turns out that it’s based on how bad the worst person in the team is.

Darth Sidious



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2. Faisal Abid - April 22, 2009

One person can lower productivity. Ive seen it in all the group projects ive worked in. There is always that one guy who thinks hes in for a free ride and messes up the vibe of the group.

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