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TEAM BUILDING

Can a Team Have Too Much Talent?

Whether you're playing in the World Cup or hiring for your business, there is such a thing as too many stars, according to new research.
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The world is gripped by World Cup mania (even if the impressive run of Team USA ended yesterday). Sports fans see the competition as an excuse to get together and cheer for their national team, but not business school professors. They see the action in Brazil as good background for an insightful study.

A team including Roderick Swaab, a professor at European business school INSEAD, and Adam D. Galinsky of Columbia recently took the action on the pitch as inspiration and decided to examine how adding more superstars to the mix affected football (aka soccer), basketball, and baseball teams. Did having more talent on the team always result in more success?

More Talent, Less Cooperation

At first, yes, according to the analysis, but the benefits of adding star contributors to the team worked only up to a point, whether you were looking at international soccer tournaments or the NBA. "They found evidence of a 'too-much-talent' effect such that teams with very high levels of top talent actually performed worse," reports INSEAD Knowledge. Why? "These teams failed to coordinate their actions on court," the post explains.

To check that it was the egos of superstars' hindering team coordination that was to blame for this effect, the researchers also analyzed the role of talent in baseball teams, where working together matters less than in other sports and superstars don't always need to coordinate to perform. The results, as expected, confirmed that the "too-much-talent effect" holds only in contexts where cooperation was key. In baseball, more stars really does always mean more success.

Besides Coaches, Who Cares?

That's an interesting finding if you are currently competing in Brazil or happen to work in Major League Basebell, but besides the curiosity factor, does this analysis of talent in sports really have anything to teach business owners?

Yup, insists Swaab, who says managers should take the "too-much-talent effect" into account when hiring and training their teams. "When hiring for an opening in a team with low levels of interdependence, such as sales teams, hiring the most talented individuals may be a good strategy, as these individuals will not have to work with each other," he said.

If your team needs to work closely together to accomplish anything, however, proceed more cautiously. Managers in this situation can consider holding back on hiring too many superstars, but "another option is to invest more in training team members how to coordinate effectively in different situations. Establishing a legitimate hierarchy and formalizing roles and responsibilities provides team members insight into what they must be able to do together without focusing their attention on jostling for intragroup rank," according to Swaab.

Have you ever been part of a team with too much talent?

Last updated: Jul 2, 2014

JESSICA STILLMAN

Jessica Stillman is a freelance writer based in London with interests in unconventional career paths, generational differences, and the future of work. She has blogged for CBS MoneyWatch, GigaOM, and Brazen Careerist.




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