Bad Apples: When Team Members ‘Go Bad’


Business school is often frustrating… Too much work, not enough time; too much theory, not enough action; too many chiefs, not enough Indians. I could go on.

One of the arenas that generates the most frustration is teamwork. Without exception, MBA team tasks force you to work with others from very different backgrounds, specialities and goals and there is no doubt that team work is intentionally designed to cause conflict in a controlled environment. It is often stressful, always challenging but oh-so-rewarding when you manage to navigate through difficult waters and achieve something you never thought possible.

That’s the theory, at least: the reality is much less predictable. In fairness, I have been very ‘lucky’ with my teammates in projects so far when I compare my experiences to some of the other horror stories I have heard. Without going into details, it only takes one bad apple to destablise a team, particularly when the team is newly formed and the members have not had to deal with this situation before.

However, having a bad apple in your team is not always the disaster it may seem at first. There are a number of reasons why that particular person may not ‘fit in’ with the group, such as previous experiences, different culture or simply having different ideas on what they want to get from business school. You can only really engage that person once you understand what is (or isn’t) motivating them.

While it’s certainly a challenge, if you can help to turn that person into an active and engaged team member the rewards are huge. It’s not easy, but the situation is realistic to the business environment. People like this exist in the real world, too, and if you can figure out a way to get diverse teams working harmoniously you are likely to be a step ahead of the competition in the job market.

As my Dean once said to me… where else are you going to be able to talk about such rich experiences with diverse colleagues? Where else are you going to learn how to get the best out of teams, no matter who you have working for you? It’s incredible what you learn at business school… hardly any of the really useful stuff comes from textbooks.