The Columbia Business School published research (Team Interdependence Determines When More Talent Is Too Much Versus Not Enough) on the ways in which having too much talent on one team can cause a peak and eventual downturn in performance. The question was posed as to “when and why high levels of talent reduce team performance”. The phenomenon, coined the “Too-Much-Talent Effect”, is evaluated in this paper by Roderick Swaab, Insead Assistant Professor of Organisational Behaviour, and the students and professors he collaborated with for his research.
“Three archival studies revealed that the too-much-talent effect only emerged when in tasks where team members were interdependent (football and basketball) but not independent (baseball)…basketball analysis established the mediating role of team coordination. When teams need to come together, more talent can tear them apart”. While this research is obviously focused on sports, could these findings correlate to organizational structures, as sports often emulate life? Particularly when considering a predominantly teamwork environment, the effects may be quite similar in the corporate world.
A recent article from business school and international research organization, Insead, discusses this correlation and potential effects for organizations. In the beginning, it was determined, bringing in talent provided a boost to overall performance. However, as time lapses and more additions are made, a peak is hit and thereafter the continued additions of talented team members have a negative impact on performance. The abundance of talent causes an implosion, where team members are competing for leadership, disputes arise and the structure collapses.
The research showed this to be true in teamwork environments where members had a lot of task interdependence and not a lot of individual, unrelated tasks. The analogy compared basketball, where too many stars caused a lack of coordination, and thus failure, on the court, in comparison to baseball where high performing individual efforts still maintained successes as each player has an independent role. It is recognized that the sports analogy is an important indicator for business operations. Quoting Swaab, Insead states:
“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. However, when teams require high levels of interdependence, simply hiring a group of top talented individuals may not be sufficient and potentially be disruptive. One solution is to hire fewer top talented individuals, something the Argentinian and French coach did during the 2014 World Cup when deciding not to select talented players like Carlos Tevez and Samir Nasri. Another option is to invest more in training team members how to coordinate effectively in different situations. Establishing a legitimate hierarchy and formalising 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.”
France was the team to beat coming into the 2010 World Cup, but fraught with an overflow of high performing stars, the results were less than expected. Internal fighting and a breakdown of the team sent them home before the second round and ended their World Cup venture in shame. Even with high expectations and great leaders and performers in place, a hierarchy and team dynamic must still remain established. Recruit members that aren’t just a source of high talent but that add overall value to the teams within your organization.
Traci Kingery, PHR is an HR Professional and freelance writer based in the Midwest, specializing in immigration and talent management. When she’s not improving unemployment, she keeps busy with her husband and four children.