The Thought Circus

A log of things I find and make.

The Importance of Team Dynamics on Agile Teams

A couple of years ago I heard a podcast on how a single member of a team can greatly affect the overall performance and happiness of the whole team. A recent discussion about how important it is to get a feel for a candidate’s personality and how they would fit in the team during an interview spurred me to track it down. I initially searched RadioLab where I was quite sure I had heard it but no luck. I next tried This American Life and quickly found it. The show 370: Ruining it for the rest of us starts with a story about a study by Dr. William Felps titled How, When, and Why bad apples spoil the barrel: negative group members and dysfunctional groups where he looked at the effect of a single person on the whole group. He found ,contrary to the prevailing theory that the group would win over the actions of a single person, that a single person could not just reduce the productivity of a team but ruin it. He tested three destructive personality types:

  • Jerk
  • Slacker
  • Depressive pessimist

And found all of them potentially destructive and more over that the other members of the group would start to take on the personality of the ‘bad apple’ accelerating the effect. What’s really incredible is he saw the effect in exercises that only lasted 45 minutes! Think what someone could do to your team in a single day or week. This all meshes with my experience watching bad traits spread through a team like the flu. But much like you can cut off the flu’s spread by having people stay home sick sometimes a simple talk with the team or individuals can stem spread of bad attitudes and even help those already exhibiting them. Even if you don’t read the paper I really encourage you to listen to the This American Life story it’s just the first 12 minutes though the whole thing is pretty great. Be sure to listen to all 12 minutes, up to the Jackson 5 song, for some interesting notes from the author about possible ways to counteract the bad apple. Further resources: