Successful Cultures Eliminate Bad Apples

Think back to when you started a job. Any job.

At some point, you met with the group of individuals who would make up your team. During this meeting, everyone was friendly, working together and getting along.

However, as the year went on you noticed one team member did not click with the rest of the group. This individual possessed drastically different viewpoints and opinions. Whereas the rest of the group was positive and optimistic, this individual was negative and cynical.

Clearly, this individual's mindset did not match the rest of your otherwise-happy team.

Although your productivity and effectiveness were affected, your team continued to give energy and power to this person. At the end of one meeting - after this individual had left - you asked the group, "Why do we put up with this?" Your teammates looked down at the ground, realizing you brought up the elephant in the room.

Eventually, one of your teammates spoke up: "That's just who they are. We're used to it now. Nothing's going to change." They continued, "Plus, we've tried to bring this up in the past. They get real defensive and angry and tell us we are the problem. It's not worth the battle."

Your team limped along, fully aware of the underlying issue but choosing not to do anything in fear of retaliation.


Unfortunately, a number of teams have an outlier. You can probably think of someone right now who fits this description. Not only does this person a dramatically different outlook on life, their negative attitude infects the rest of your team.

Some people offer this justification: "It's just a difference in personality. They can't help who they are. We need to allow for differences in personalities and opinions."

Yes, there is nothing wrong with a team full of different personalities. Great teams consist of individuals who bring different strengths and perspectives to the group. This issue runs much deeper. When an individual has deep-rooted philosophical differences with his or her peers, underlying tension within the team is inescapable.

This is not about a difference of opinions. This is about a difference of core values.

According to Patrick Lencioni, "Organizational Core Values provide the ultimate guide for employee behavior at all levels. Successful companies adhere strictly to a fundamental set of principles that guide behaviors and decisions over time, preserving the essence of the organization. Values are critical because they define a company's personality. They provide employees with clarity about how to behave."

Whether or not a team shares core values can have a direct impact on their success. When teammates share a fundamental set of principles, their potential is limitless. However, when even one member has misaligned core values the team will find it hard to create sustained success. Any growth experienced occurs in spite of the teammate.

When it is clear that one individual's core values are holding the rest of the group back, leaders have a difficult choice to make. Should this individual remain on the team, with hopes that he or she will do minimal damage? Or, would it be better to remove this individual from the team?

Intervention must be the first step. Rogue team members must be made aware of their deficiencies and become more open minded about working together. Innate behaviors are much more difficult to change than technical skills, so true behavioral transformations are rare. Regardless, compassionate employers understand staff members must be given opportunities to change.

When leaders realize there is no hope for certain individuals to improve behavior even after coaching, they will want to consider removing the individual from the team. While severe, the team will have considerably greater opportunity to achieve their goals when not held back by a cancerous colleague.

Daniel Coyle said it best in the The Culture Code by advising, "Highly successful cultures eliminate bad apples."

Looking for a great book discussing core values? Consider reading Built to Last by Jim Collins.

Copyright © 2019 by Dr. Jared Smith LLC.  Specializing in Leadership, Education, and Personal Growth.