Every business wants to hire as many superstar employees as possible.
But be careful what you wish for.
Take basketball. For every 2016 Golden State Warriors, there are plenty of "super teams" that didn't win championships. The '94 Rockets of Barkley, Drexler, and Olajuwon. The 2010 Heat of LeBron, Wade, and Bosh. The '03 Lakers of Shaq, Kobe, Payton, and Malone.
Or take rock bands. As Glenn Frey says in the History of the Eagles documentary, "No one can do anything without the other guys, but everybody doesn't get to touch the ball all the time." Talent matters. But so does teamwork.
So does having people whose real talent is making the people around them better. So does having superstars who embrace their role on the team -- and roughly speaking, stay within the boundaries of that role. Because all too often superstars can start to focus more on ensuring their light shines the brightest than they do on the team's success.
And that's when a "super team" implodes.
Sound anecdotal? Science to the rescue: A 2014 study published in Psychological Science found that talent facilitates performance, but only to a point. Two is better than one. Three can be better than two.
But at some point, adding too many superstars doesn't lead to diminishing returns: Team performance actually decreases.
Oddly enough, the phenomenon didn't occur in baseball, where more talent tended to yield more success. Why? Because baseball, while a team sport, involves relatively few interdependent tasks. Pitchers pitch. Hitters hit. Baseball players don't make assists, create space for teammates to get their shots, or embrace help defense.
The same is true for business, especially when teamwork and collaboration are critical.
Research shows that too many "high status" individuals significantly decrease group effectiveness. That "hierarchically defined" groups (think teams made up of different levels of people, all of whom embrace their individual roles) perform better on interdependent tasks than teams made up solely of "high power primed" (think superstar) individuals. That low-power teams (think teams made up of people who know their roles) outperform high-power teams (think teams made up of people who all think they are superstars).
And if that's not enough, that when a hen house has too many superstar egg producers, conflict spikes and production dips.
Yep: Even chickens can get a little too full of themselves.
Having even one superstar on a team can negatively impact creativity. A 2020 study published in Academy of Management found that "a creative star who occupies a central position in the team workflow network has both a positive direct effect on team creativity and a negative indirect effect on team creativity via reducing non-stars' learning (i.e., exploratory and exploitative activities)."
Or in non-researcher-speak, the presence of a superstar, especially one who knows (and acts lke) he or she is a superstar, makes other people less likely to contribute, collaborate, and build on each other's ideas.
Keep in mind you sometimes can't have too many superstars. Like in baseball, or in any pursuit where team performance is based on relatively individual contributions.
I was once assigned to a manufacturing line crew made up almost totally (I was the exception) of superstars. We outproduced every other crew in the plant. Too many superstars would never be enough, because while we were a "team," we all ran individual pieces of equipment on the line.
We didn't have to collaborate. We barely worked together. We just had to be able to kick ass in our individual roles.
But whenever we met as a team to discuss crew changes, or process changes, or anything we needed to agree on, things fell apart: Aside from me, everyone saw themselves as an alpha. Each person felt they knew better, which meant we could never agree on changing anything for the better.
Bottom line? Every business needs superstars.
But some teams don't need more superstars.
If team performance is predicated on collaboration, cooperation, and cohesion, too many superstars can have a negative effect. If a team's goals rely on combining a collection of individual talents to create a sum greater than its parts, too many superstars can spoil the recipe.
But if your team -- for example, a territorially assigned sales team -- relies largely on individual skills and individual contributions, then too many superstars is never enough.
The key is to know what you need to achieve -- and what type of team will help you achieve it.