In my real-world life I have a number of different management positions with both commercial and not for profit organizations. Management is a really interesting topic, especially given the generational shift that a Gen X to Gen Y move is bringing.

One of the organizations I’m involved with is voluntary, and that introduces an entirely new set of problems into the mix – the age old “they’re volunteers, not employees, so we can’t demand too much from them” chestnut keeps raising its head.

One of the members in this particular organization has a bit of a tendency towards instability. She’s the sort of person who will be confronted by a minor dispute, internalize it and dwell on it for weeks only to have it morph and grow into an all encompassing tumor.

After the last outburst, when colleagues and management were hit by the fallout from one of her regular outbursts, I got to thinking about organization management, and the impact a few bad attitudes can have.

I came across (hat tip to SE) this article from management issues which discusses the impact of a “bad apple” on a team. It tells of new research which suggests that it only takes one toxic individual to upset the whole apple cart.

The article defines bad apples as “people who don’t do their fair share of the work, who are chronically unhappy and emotionally unstable, or who bully or attack others – act like a virus, destroying team dynamics and creating organizational dysfunction.”

Most of the advice from the article looks at ways to screen out these “bad apples” – psychometric testing, personality assessments and the like. But what when the bad apple is firmly sitting in the bowl and causing the other fruit to go off?

My friend’s perspective on dysfunction within an existing team was as follows;

…the fix in my eyes is very much like a bowl of apples when this happens and its too late… you can either throw out the whole bowl or take all of the apples out, wash the bowl and then wash the apples that can be salvaged and put the these ones back in the bowl. [but first you need to throw] out the ones that cant be washed and put back in the bowl.


The earlier one deals with the apples going bad the less apples that need to be thrown out.

I tend to agree with my friend, while laissez-faire is an appealing 9and easy) approach, it’s often one that is ultimately doomed to failure. As the article points out;

Most organizations do not have very effective ways to handle the problem. This is especially true when the problem employee has longevity, experience or power. Companies need to move quickly to deal with such problems because the negativity of just one individual is pervasive and destructive and can spread quickly.

So…. the bottom line is that in order to build a successful organization, you need team spirit. The disharmony caused through throwing out a few metaphorical bad apples is nothing compared to the damage those same apples can do to the bowl as a whole.

There endeth the lengthy metaphor.

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Ben Kepes

Ben Kepes is a technology evangelist, an investor, a commentator and a business adviser. Ben covers the convergence of technology, mobile, ubiquity and agility, all enabled by the Cloud. His areas of interest extend to enterprise software, software integration, financial/accounting software, platforms and infrastructure as well as articulating technology simply for everyday users.

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