(Written on 10 Jan 2011)

Dear All,

For those involved in the management of group efforts this summary of, How, When, and Why Bad Apples Spoil the Barrel: Negative Group Members and Dysfunctional Groups by Will Felps, Terence R. Mitchell & Eliza Byington, may be of interest.

It was found that group members who engage in one or more of the following three types of behaviour can have a severe impact on group functioning:

  • Withholders of effort: Those who intentionally dodge their responsibilities to the group and free ride off the efforts of others. Examples are members not completing tasks or contributing adequate time, not taking on risks or responsibilities, or not disclosing aptitudes in the hope that others will compensate.
  • Affectively negative people: Those who continually express a negative emotion, mood, and/or attitude. These “personally negative” individuals are more likely to exhibit an awkward interpersonal style and to more frequently express pessimism, anxiety, insecurity, and irritation.
  • Interpersonal deviants Seven common behaviours characterise these members: making fun of someone, saying something hurtful, making an inappropriate ethnic or religious remark, cursing at someone, playing mean pranks, acting rudely, and publicly embarrassing someone.

Note that not everyone considered an “undesirable” group member is eligible for “negative member” status. For example, many characteristics like shyness, lacking a sense of humour, or being unpredictable do not fit into any of the three behavioural types described above.

Members with distinctive demographic backgrounds or who have divergent opinions about the best way to accomplish group goals are also not included, even though other group members may consider it difficult to deal with these characteristics.

Further, individuals who are motivated to achieve group goals but do not have the requisite ability are not eligible for “negative member” status; while poor performance can certainly diminish group performance, this low performance does not depend on negative interpersonal reactions for its effect, and indeed, tends to evoke sympathy and compensation from teammates.

Finally, harmful behaviours like theft, cheating, sabotage, or vandalism are also excluded since they affect the organization rather than teammates.

For more see: