Too much talent, less team success
As the FIFA World Cup kicks off, new research from INSEAD revealing a ‘too-much-talent’ effect poses the question: can teams have too much talent? According to research led by Professor Roderick Swaab, the addition of more superstar talent to a team can actually be detrimental after a certain point, resulting in poorer team performance.
The study found that the presence of too many top talented individuals can undermine players’ willingness to coordinate, which is required for effective teamwork and performance. However, findings from the research, to be published in “Psychological Science”, also reveal that most people assume the opposite, believing that piling on more top talent is the key to team success.
“Most people believe that the relationship between talent and team performance is linear – the more their team is packed with talent, the better they will do,” explains Swaab. “Yet our latest research documenting a ‘too-much-talent effect’, reveals that for teams requiring high levels of interdependence, like football, talent facilitates team performance… but only up to a point. Beyond this point, the benefits of adding more top talent will decrease and eventually hurt the team performance because they fail to coordinate their actions.”
The study also reveals that the too-much-talent effect only emerges in teams that require a high level of interdependence between players. Swaab continues: “As the FIFA World Cup 2014 draws near, we expect to see plenty of team-sheets boasting impressive line-ups with top talented players. However, coaches that simply select their side with superstars may, contrary to popular belief, be the ones taking an early exit from Brazil!”
Some lessons can also be taken to the boardroom. “Like sports team, teams in organizations vary in their levels of interdependence”, says Swaab. When team success merely depends on the accumulation of individual performance (e.g. sales teams), hiring and staffing could simply focus on getting the most talented individuals on board. However, these same strategies can hurt a willingness to coordinate effectively when team success depends on high levels of interdependence (e.g. strategy teams).
When interdependence between team members is high, organizations could either hire a better mix of top talent and non-top talent and/or invest more in training to formalize roles, ranks, and responsibilities. These are important lessons because selection decisions in organizations can produce a too-much-talent effect because of misguided perceptions around the link between top talent and performance.