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Daniel Snyder, and why a team full of stars doesn't win

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On the flip side of Peyton Manning, LeBron James and your hotshot sixth-grade point guard snapping under the pressure of carrying a whole team on his or her back, an upcoming study led by Harvard Business School professors purports to explain the flip side: why a team full of stars can be unsuccessful. It might explain the constant failure of Washington Redskins owner Daniel Snyder’s efforts to build a Super Bowl team out of every star free agent he can find, past choking by the U.S. Olympic men’s basketball team, and your kid’s soccer team’s inexplicable loss to a team full of lesser players.

The study, to appear in the peer-reviewed journal Organization Science, is called “Too Many Cooks Spoil the Broth: How High Status Individuals Decrease Group Effectiveness.” From the Harvard Business School’s faculty research newsletter (hat tip, Nicole LaVoi, director of the Tucker Center for Research on Girls & Women in Sports, University of Minnesota):

Can groups become effective simply by assembling high status individual performers? Though an affirmative answer may seem straightforward on the surface, this answer becomes more complicated when group members benefit from collaborating on interdependent tasks. Examining Wall Street sell-side equities research analysts who work in an industry in which individuals strive for status, we find that groups benefited—up to a point—from having high status members, controlling for individual performance. With higher proportions of individual stars, however, the marginal benefit decreased before the slope of this curvilinear pattern became negative. This curvilinear pattern was especially strong when stars were concentrated in a small number of sectors, likely reflecting suboptimal integration among analysts with similar areas of expertise. Control variables ensured that these effects were not the spurious result of individual performance, department size or specialization, or firm prestige. We discuss the theoretical implications of these results for the literatures on status and groups, along with practical implications for strategic human resource management.

In other words, there can be only do many alpha dogs in a group before they start turning against each other, which explains why the New York Yankees don’t win a World Series every year. Or, this is why every member of a team has a certain role. If you have too many members of your team fighting for that role, then your team isn’t going to do so well. That’s why I tell the basketball teams I coach that everyone is not going to score points — and that some of you can make your mark as a rebounder, or passer, or defender instead.

Written by rkcookjr

February 10, 2010 at 3:55 pm