Three Simple Steps for Bad Apple Problems

“We have tried everything, but nothing seems to make any difference.”

Frustration prompts many conversations about dysfunctional workgroups. Everyone knows that poor working relationships drain the life out of a team. Media maintains an ongoing theme on workplace bullying, its prevalence, and its damaging impact. Management conferences schedule multiple sessions on incivility, abuse, and bullying. Widespread concern has put the issue on the table.

It is the elusiveness of effective action that frustrates leaders, especially when the problem is a flawed barrel rather than a bad apple.

Anyone can solve bad apple problems. If the problem arises from one individual, managers can educate, discipline, or remove that individual.

The obvious sequence starts with education. In a scheduled or a specially arranged performance review, the manager describes the problem. For example, the bad apple uses derogatory language to criticize colleagues. The meeting works towards identifying ways of correcting that behavior. In the simplest scenario, the bad apple realizes the error of his/her ways and resolves to express greater sensitivity in the future. In more complex scenarios, the manager identifies a training program to improve the bad apple’s emotional intelligence and resolves to monitor the bad apple’s behavior for the foreseeable future.

Continuing bad apple behavior prompts discipline. Union contracts or government labor regulations define the structure and procedures for discipline. Carefully following procedures allows reprimands to be effective. Otherwise, bad apples can reverse discipline through an appeal process.

When both education and discipline fail to correct bad behavior, managers move to removal. Removing someone from a job requires careful attention and thorough implementation of education and discipline.

If the problem is accurately diagnosed as a bad apple problem, changing the behavior or eliminating the bad apple should bring the workgroup back to an even keel.

    • Education provides bad apples with self-awareness, helping them to develop their emotional intelligence.

    • Discipline provides bad apples with incentives to avoid the risks and costs of bad behavior.

    • Removal ends the bad apples’ impact on the group. They no longer inflict their bad behavior or the workgroup.

At the root of the managers’ frustration (we have tried everything!) is that dysfunctional workgroups do not always bounce back in the post-bad apple era. Their resiliency may remain elusive.

The following posts will explore non-bad apple models of dysfunctional workgroups.

We will consider the complex challenge presented by flawed barrels.

What has been your experience in dealing with bad apples?


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