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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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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