The Price of a Bad Apple (NOT Another Inflation Story)

Posted on May 24, 2023

Walter Matthau sitting in a dugout with three blond-haired kids in Bears uniforms, from The Bad News Bears.

Today’s Morning Buzz is brought to you by Matt Horn, the Director of Local Government Services for MRB Group, and a seriously terrible fast dancer (or slow dancer). Check out some of the things he IS good at on his LinkedIn profile

  • What I’m watching: Re-watching the original Bad News Bears franchise with my 6-year-old Pony Leaguer…I miss the days when Walter Matthau could drop a sixer into a pail of ice and carry it into a public park…
  • What I’m listening to: The 21 Days of Abundance podcast by Deepak Choprah…it’s taking me way more than 21 days, but I already got to the part about forgiving yourself, so…
  • What I’m reading: The Worst Hard Time, by Timothy Egan – an amazingly descriptive overview of the Dust Bowl tragedy…the title sounded like a preview to a City Council meeting, so I got tricked into checking it out…
  • What I’m working on: This is shaping up to be the spring of public engagement…traveling the U.S. helping communities get the most out of their constituents in developing long-range plans…


Let’s face it – public service is a team sport.  

I’ve worked in a diverse set of communities around the country – large and small; complex and simple; urban centers and rural hamlets. I never worked in a place that relied (successfully) on a single superstar to move them forward.  

When you’re on a great team, it’s an amazing experience. Everyone is clicking, all cylinders are firing…stuff is getting done. A dysfunctional team is just the opposite. We never seem to get out of the starting gate. We can’t get a rhythm going…everything stalls.

But I’ve also experienced a third kind of team – one where most folks are putting their shoulders into it, but one or two holdouts can’t seem to get with the program. In the worst cases, these folks are cowboys/girls – convinced that their own personal wins are more important than the overall success of the team. They put points on the board: a successful project here or there, but they get their personal wins at any cost – including the cost of trampling fellow team members.  

In this environment, morale almost always suffers. Team members who feel marginalized will slowly (or quickly) disengage from the rest of the group, lose interest in the work, start looking for other opportunities, and ultimately leave. On the far end of the spectrum, the negative behavior is reinforced and poor team mechanics spread to other team members, creating a squad of cowboys/girls only out for individual accolades.

So, how do we head off Cowboyitis and Cowgirlitis?  Here are a few foundational steps that might avoid peril:  

  • Model great behaviors with your team. Challenge more senior members of the team to reinforce the team ethic.
  • Work to establish clear core values for your team that emphasize the importance of each member’s contribution, and integrate those into your regular performance feedback.
  • HAVE regular performance feedback – don’t wait for an annual evaluation…shoot for quarterly check-ins, and be sure not to focus solely on outputs or individual technical performance. Talk about how each team member has performed as part of the team.
  • Celebrate instances of clear alignment with values and call out those actions that run against the grain…do both immediately and clearly (celebrate very publicly and address negative behaviors very discretely).

The cost of low morale is staggering…the cost of turnover is worse. Organizations that tolerate cowboys/girls lose team players. The reverse can be true, but only if you establish, reinforce, and live a culture that celebrates the team and each player’s contribution…in that order.

Now, back to day 30 of Deepak’s 21 days of abundance…

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