I only follow a couple of podcasts regularly because my drive to work is relatively short, and I otherwise can’t keep up. But I happened to read about one particular episode of This American Life – entitled Ruining It for the Rest of Us – on a blog somewhere, and was interested enough to loop back and get caught up with that show. The Prologue was particularly interesting:
A bad apple, at least at work, can spoil the whole barrel. And there’s research to prove it. Host Ira Glass talks to Will Felps, a professor at Rotterdam School of Management in the Netherlands, who designed an experiment to see what happens when a bad worker joins a team. Felps divided people into small groups and gave them a task. One member of the group would be an actor, acting either like a jerk, a slacker or a depressive. And within 45 minutes, the rest of the group started behaving like the bad apple. (13 minutes)
A very interesting study — one person with a bad attitude can indeed spoil the whole barrel, even for people who have a good reason to want to succeed. Bad apple behaviors tend to pull the whole group down, and groups were only as successful as their poorest member. And one of the interesting things is that only one particular type of person was able to short-circuit the bad apple behavior in their study — one of the participants was the son of a diplomat, and was able to diffuse the behavior of the bad apple and lead the group.
I’d strongly recommend listening to that podcast – It made me think about my own behavior and how I react to others, both at work and at home.
I did some additional research and found the Journal where Felps published this report — Research in Organizational Behavior, Volume 27. Dunno if I’ll go ahead and order it, because I have lots to read already, but I thought it was really cool.