19 January 2009

Bad apples on studio projects

I know. You've spent your entire winter break thinking about how much you hated working on a team. It would have been great except for that one person. Thank goodness you'll never have to work with anyone else for the rest of your time here...

Until Design Week 2009!

Well, to get ready for a little more group work, you might want to listen to the opening segment of the recent episode of This American Life called Ruining It for the Rest of Us. To set the stage, they talk to a researcher who experimented with group behavior. He explored the three general kinds of bad behavior that could bring down a group:
  • Insulting jerk - attacks others - "Are you kidding me?"
  • Slacker - does less than they can - text messages other friends during team meetings
  • Depressive pessimist - puts their head down - "We can't succeed" or "This isn't fun at all"
What he found was that just one bad apple could bring down the group - performance was down 30-40%. What ever the bad actor did, the behavior spread to the whole group. The jerk's insults would quickly lead to other insults, not just directed at the jerk. When he just kept his head on the table, the rest of the group would end up tired and say "let's just get this over with".

But here's the thing. A good leader should be able to recognize these behaviors and intervene. Did you have one of these bad apples on a recent team? Did you try to keep it from spreading? Or did you let their defeatism become the team's motto?

One of the challenges for Design Week 2009 will be to watch out for the bad apples and try to help them improve.

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