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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


The Imperfect Perfectionist April 28, 2008

Posted by Darth Sidious in Employee Types, Managing Employees.
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The Imperfect Perfectionist Employee Type is often a subset of other negatively oriented types that carries this unique personality.

This type of person is obsessed with finding imperfections with everything, and their personal results work flawlessly. But, the work itself is imperfect, meaning that the flawless results are achieved through painstaking testing and regression analysis… They check, double check, and re-check the output, information, and requirements.

But they are often resistant to change, because change requires admitting to ones own imperfections. And to the Imperfect Perfectionist, your life is built on pointing out everyone else’s faults – so how could someone like this ever come to terms and deal with their own?

So even if change is good for them, for example if they adopted a new technology, process, architectural approach, or methodology they may be able to cut their testing time in half.

What’s interesting about this type of character is even though they’re resistant to change, they campaign for *DRASTIC* changes at the same time. Wouldn’t that be a conflict of definition, or a major inconsistency in the observation of this Employee Type?

There’s a good reason why they do this. They view everything and everyone around them as imperfect, so the reasons they’re not able to achieve perfection with parts of their craft is never their fault (in their eyes), but the fault of the technology, tools, people, etc… Therefore completely abandoning such faults is the only logical way (in their mind) to rid themselves of what causes the imperfection. But the reality is that it’s a subconscious move to deflect the inner realization of their own perfections.

The Cancerous Employee February 7, 2008

Posted by Darth Sidious in Employee Types, Managing Employees.
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The Cancerous employee doesn’t have Cancer, they ARE Cancer. They affect whatever is around them in a bad way – and overtime the cancer spreads outwards. As the tumor grows what would be healthy productive employees eventually become demotivated by the Cancerous employees around them.

Like real Cancer, the Cancerous employee is difficult to remove. They become entrenched in the organization through other people, technology, and subject matter expertise.

Getting rid of the Cancerous employee is just as challenging as real Cancer – you have to localize where the Cancer is and hit it hard, and chances are you’re going to affect good tissue (e.g. departments and teams in this case). Cancer doesn’t go down easily, it infects in as many places as possible, and it’s difficult to know where all those areas are and know if you truly eradicated all those areas.


  • Negative attitude.
  • Usually doesn’t collaborate with the team.
  • Hoards information.
  • Actively (even if subconsciously) demotivates others.
  • Chronically complains.
  • Sees only the negative side of any situation.
  • Unable to admit to ones mistakes.
  • Extremely resistant to change, new ideas, etc…
  • Emotionally unstable.
  • Has few allies in the team.
  • Complains about others weaknesses, even when they share the same weakness (this is because they believe that the rest of the team exists to serve them).


  • Like with real Cancer, you have to bite the bullet and get rid of the disease – it only can get worse.
  • Isolate him/her so that the collateral damage is minimized.
  • Cover your bases in all the areas that the person is involved in.
  • Have an extremely well thought out contingency plan in case this person leaves before you are ready.
  • Have an extremely well thought out plan to remove this person.

Darth Sidious