Tag Archives: Boris Groysberg

Individual Talent Surplus Can Reduce Team Performance 

Roderick Swaab

Roderick Swaab

More talent on a team doesn’t always increase team performance, particularly when team member must coordinate their efforts.

In fact, status conflicts based on talent differences can undermine team coordination during hand-offs for interdependent tasks, found INSEAD’s Roderick I. Swaab and Michael Schaerer, with Eric M. Anicich and Adam Galinsky of Columbia and VU University Amsterdam’s Richard Ronay.

Michael Schaerer

Michael Schaerer

Swaab and colleagues confirmed that most people believe there is a linear relationship between talent and performance:  They expect that more talent is consistently associated with improved performance.

However, the research team found an exception to this presumed rule when they analyzed National Basketball Association and Major League Baseball team and player data from 2002 through 2012.

Eric M. Anicich

Eric M. Anicich

They evaluated team performance in interdependent game tasks in basketball, a “zero sum game” because when one player shoots other players lose the opportunity to shoot at that time.
As a result, basketball players must coordinate efforts to position team members for as many shots as possible in a limited time.

Richard Ronay

Richard Ronay

In contrast, Swaab’s group studied independent sports performance in baseball.
In this game, players hit the ball in an assigned order and one player’s turn at bat does not eliminate another player’s turn to hit.
Further, each baseball player may hit a home run independent of other teammates’ batting skill, so each individual’s talent additively contributes to the team outcome.

Adam Galinsky

Adam Galinsky

Swaab’s team found that more talent is not associated with better performance when team members needed to coordinate interdependent tasks, as in basketball.
They called this the “too-much-talent effect”:  “When teams need to come together, more talent can tear them apart.”
In this case, they concluded that role differentiation is essential for optimal performance during interdependent tasks to ensure diverse capabilities in addition to willingness to collaborate.

Boris Groysberg

Boris Groysberg

This finding can be generalized to business organizations, which may experience decreased team performance if highly talented team members are unable to collaborate on interdependent tasks.
In addition, a surplus of top talent can undermine an organization’s profitability due to the high cost of attracting and hiring “stars.”

This “too-much-talent” effect was also demonstrated among Wall Street sell-side equity research analysts by Harvard Business School’s Boris Groysberg and Jeffrey T. Polzer with Hillary Anger Elfenbein of Washington University.

Hillary Anger Elfenbein

Hillary Anger Elfenbein

Increasing the number of talented analysts increased the firm’s overall performance to a point, then more stars actually decreased performance.
This effect was especially prominent when strong performers were concentrated in a small number of sectors.

As in professional sports, this “too-much-talent” effect could reflect a suboptimal integration and collaboration among analysts with similar expertise, controlling for individual performance, department size or specialization, or firm prestige.

Jennifer R. Overbeck

Jennifer R. Overbeck

Laboratory studies with volunteers confirm observations of the “too-much-talent” effect among professional athletes and Wall Street analysts, in research by University of Utah’s Jennifer R. Overbeck, Joshua Correll, and Bernadette Park.

They concluded that task groups need a few high-status members as leaders, and many more member-followers to contribute and implement work while supporting group direction.

Arthur Colman

Arthur Colman

When this “status sorting” is not explicit, Overbeck and team noted that a differentiated status hierarchy will evolve as status-seeking members vie for authority.
In rare cases, status sorting must be implemented through organizational design and responsibility definition, echoing earlier observations by University of California San Francisco’s Arthur D. Colman and W. Harold Bexton of the A.K. Rice Institute.

  • How have you managed “too-much-talent” effect in organizations?
  • To what extent do you encourage “status sorting” in your organization?

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Super-Star Skills May Not be Transferrable to New Job Opportunities

Boris Groysberg

Boris Groysberg

Harvard Business School professor Boris Groysberg outlines findings from a study of 1053 top Wall Street Analysts at 78 investment banks between 1988 and 1996 in his book, Chasing Stars: The Myth of Talent and Portability of Performance

His team examined 546 job changes and compared the top performers’ performance with that of 20,000 “non-star” analysts at 400 investment banks.
They interviewed 200 of these analysts and talked with their institutional investor clients.

Groysberg’s team found that the star performers’ “job performance plunged sharply and continued to suffer for at least five years after moving to a new firm”, because they “…lost access to colleagues, teammates and internal networks than can take years to develop…new and unfamiliar ways of doing things took the place of routines and procedures and systems that …had become second nature.”

He suggested that firms can prevent this performance decrement by hiring the entire team (“liftout”) and by “hiring more women, who…suffer less on leaving one firm to join another (because) they had formed stronger ties outside the firm than many male analysts and so were less dependent on their former work colleagues…and they made wiser choices when it came to agreeing to move.”

Team Groysberg identifies mistakes star employees make when leaving a firm:

  • Doing inadequate research into the new company
  • Leaving because they are escaping something unpleasant rather than choosing something better
  • Over-estimating their own abilities
  • Failing to take a long-term view

Groysberg’s book considers how some Wall Street research departments are successfully growing, retaining, and deploying their own “stars,” and how these practices might be applied in other organizations.

-*When have you seen super-star skills transfer to a new work environment?
-*When have these skills not transferred as successfully to a different organization?

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