Almost all of us have either had the personal experience of working with someone who displayed bad apple behaviors … When this process starts to unfold at work, it consumes inordinate amounts of time, psychological resources, and emotional energy. … such circumstances underlie many people’s reluctance to fully commit to teams… they offend us, reduce our enthusiasm, change our mood and may ultimately lead us to personally de-identify or leave the group, with a high likelihood that the group itself will perform poorly, fail, or disband.
Will Felps – How, when, and why bad apples spoil the barrel: Negative group members and dysfunctional groups. PDF LINK
Professor Will Felps was interviewed on a the December 19, 2008 episode of ‘This American Life‘ (Ruining It for the Rest of Us). He relates the results of a study in group dynamics where an actor put into a group of unwitting students and told to model one of three ‘bad apple’ behaviors: the slacker, the depressive pessimist and the jerk.After dozens of trials Felps concluded that the bad apple did ‘spoil the barrel’ significantly reducing the performance of the group with one remarkable exception. One member in this exceptional group was a ‘particularly good leader’ who would ‘ask questions, engage all the team members and diffuse conflicts’.
Now Felps is studying the technique of asking questions and engaging everyone’s opinion as a way of strengthening groups.
Any reasonably attentive student of human nature understands how very difficult it is to moderate or overcome the ‘bad apple’ effect. The discovery that engaging people in a group setting with questions may significantly neutralize bad apple behaviors is encouraging.
Questions are an especially effective tool for Scouters. They engage youth leadership in discovery and development, diffuse difficulties and, now apparently, help balance the efforts of a group working towards a goal.