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The Problem with Teamwork: How to Lose Friends and Negatively Influence People

 by Bennett Gordon


Tags: Science, psychology, group think,

TeamworkGroups are thought to be strong: United we stand, divided we fall. E pluribus unum. In reality, though, just one negative person can ruin an entire group, according to research by Will Felps highlighted on This American Life. Felps identified three personality types that can ruin a group: jerks, slackers, and depressive pessimists. One person who fits any of those personality types can make an otherwise productive group 30 to 40 percent worse. “What was sort of eerily surprising,” Felps said of his research, “was how these team members would start to sort of take on” the characteristic of the bad apple. Groups with a jerk in them started being mean to each other. Groups with a depressive pessimist often acted more depressed.

Group dynamics can also give way to group think. Too often, Jake Mohan writes for the Jan-Feb issue of Utne Reader, “Fruitful dissent evaporates, self-defeating tendencies surge, and corrosive emotions destroy the potential of group work.” 

There are strategies to overcome the problems in group dynamics. Mohan writes that “Team leaders can encourage constructive dissent by playing devil’s advocate and disagreeing with a unanimous decision, prompting a timid voice to pipe up.” In Felps’ research, there was one group that didn’t do worse, even with a bad apple. In that group, according to Felps, “There was just one guy who was a particularly good leader. And what he would do was he would ask questions and he would engage all the team members and diffuse conflicts.” The question that Felps is currently researching is whether a good leader can overcome the obstacles provided by all the jerks, slackers, and depressive pessimists just by asking questions. His previous research would suggest that it’s possible.

Image by Lumaxart, licensed under Creative Commons. 

missmolly
1/3/2009 12:52:09 PM

The author assumes that one person has only negative traits...depressive, a busive etc etc. Doesnt eeryone have al the emotions? I have bi-polar and can be depressed, but in a group i am very supportive, have excellent inter-personal skills and am attuned to the emotional needs of others. Stop labelling.


emily_5
1/2/2009 8:51:58 AM

YES, I AM SURE A GOOD LEADER COULD HELP TO DILUTE THE NEGATIVE RESPONSES OF A BAD APPLE IN A GROUP, IF HE/SHE COULD COULD CATCH THE OFFENDING COMMENTS EARLY ENOUGH, HAVING BEEN PART OF A GROUP OF STUDENTS WHERE NEGATIVITY STARTED FROM THE SECOND WEEK, -- (MY ANSWERS, ALTHOUGH CORRECT, WERE MARKED AS WRONG), I ACHIEVED A DIPLOMA, BUT HAD NOT TAKEN THE COURSE I HAD ORIGINALLY WANTED,--I TOOK THE SWEDISH BODY MASSAGE COURSE,--I WANTED THE INDIAN HEAD MASSAGE COURSE,-- BUT WAS TOLD I WOULD HAVE TO TAKE ANATOMY AND PHYSIOLOGY FIRST, AND ALTHOUGH I FOUND THE A&P COURSE INTERESTING,-- AND HARD WORK, -- IT WAS MY SECOND CHOICE! -- BY THE WAY, -- I TOOK THIS COURSE IN 2003, I WAS THEN IN MY 61st YEAR, -- AND I AM NOW IN MY 67th YEAR LEARNING FROM A DVD- (INDIAN HEAD MASSAGE). I WAS NOT THE BAD APPLE IN THE GROUP, -- I ALWAYS KEPT UP WITH MY WORK, AND PERSEVERED WITH THE COURSE TO THE END. -- GOOD HEALTH IS IMPORTANT, AND FERMENTING NEGATIVITY IN A GROUP CAN BE OVERCOME,-- STARTING WITH THE TUTOR BEING ENTHUSIASTIC AND ENCOURAGING, -- EVEN WITH THE PUPILS HE/ SHE DOESN'T LIKE, INFACT, THESES ARE THE PUPILS TO BE ENCOURAGED.