At some point every team, group, or organization will incur a few bad members, or bad apples. These bad apples are extremely toxic; they can ruin the culture. So, what can be done? This week we’ll take a look why these individuals are dangerous, and how to handle them.

Rather than deal with bad apples, it’s always a good idea to prevent them from growing. One way to do that is to establish a culture and vision. (Refer to this previous post on how to do so). A set culture with a clear vision, which also includes non-negotiable expectations, will greatly reduce the chances of bad apples on your team. However, no team or group is completely immune from them.

Bad apples are more detrimental to a team than team leaders are positive

Team members who are toxic do more harm than good team members do good. Legendary coach Jerry Wainwright said, “Bad apples are more detrimental to a team than team leaders are positive.” These individuals bring down the morale. It as the old saying goes, “Misery loves company.”


The bad apples erode team culture because they bring discipline problems and unwanted distractions on a weekly, and sometimes daily basis. Too much time and energy is spent on trying to correct the poor behavior and decisions made by these individuals. Ultimately, the culture suffers because too much time is spent dealing with the negative. Complete buy-in by team members is also limited as a result of these actions. Bad apples also diminish the leaders’ ability to effective lead. They are energy vampires who take too much time away from the game and the coaches ability to teach it.

For every problem there is a solution. Inevitability every leader will encounter a few bad apples in their career, and here is how they should be handled. The great thing about these suggestions is that they are all transferable to any workplace.  

  1. Be firm and clear with team expectations from the beginning. Vagueness will open the door for future problems.
  2. Treat them like human beings. A lot of the time they are acting out as a cry for help. Try to understand the underlying reasons behind the behavior first.
  3. Be a leader. Teach them. Praise them when they do something right. Remember: “That which gets praised, gets repeated.”
  4. Establish some form of a character education and leadership development program. As coaches, we teach offensive and defensive strategies but we don’t directly teach character or leadership. Why?
  5. Give them a second and third chance. Everyone deserves a second chance. I’ve been fortunate to have some along my journey.
  6. Surround them with the best people on your team. Provide mentors who will help lead them down the right path.
  7. Be willing to cut ties. Sometimes you have to cut the dead weight and you need to be willing to do so for the betterment of the team. No one person is above the team.

“You can have one donkey on your team, but if you have two they breed.” ~Al Maguire

As a leader you always want to help every team member achieve success and reach their potential. However, there comes a time when you have to evaluate what is best for the team. Team success always comes before any individual. Ultimately, the leader needs to be prepared to draw a line in the sand and move on without the bad apples.


How do you handle the bad apples on your team or in your organization? What tips do you have to share? We’d love to hear your thoughts.

As always, thanks for reading, have a great week, and be an RGP today!

Coach Elmendorf is available to speak to your team, group, or organization. Message him for details.