Apparently having too much talent can be as bad as not having enough in terms of team performance.
His research suggests that once 68% of your team is made up of highly talented people, that becomes the point where adding more gives you less in terms of performance.
However this is based on research into elite sports teams and in football and basketball the highly skilled are known to pass the ball less and not provide as many assists to team mates as they would rather go for glory themselves.
Does that apply to business? Despite Swaab’s assertion that it does I have my doubts. Perhaps if you are competing in an investment bank, the example he quotes, you might be less inclined to share information and help colleagues, but that is hardly typical of most business environments.
The problem seems to be that very talented people are used to being recognised for their individual talent and not for being team players.
Swaab says “hiring these people does add value but with potential costs“. Hiring big egos can easily lead to personality clashes and conflict over status when they all want to be recognised as the best.
Of course if you are working in a group that is not strictly a team (in Hackman’s definition i.e. the members are not dependent on each other) then it shouldn’t matter how many talented people you have, in fact the more the merrier to get best results overall.
So it’s probably “horses for courses”. For independent workers in a group there’s no reason to assume a tipping point where performance drops off. In a real team you need the right mix of talent and diversity (and the right supporting conditions a la Hackman’s model).
Swaab acknowledges that the level of interdependence is important and it might also mean recruiting fewer star players to ensure team cohesiveness – or rewarding the team as a whole rather than individuals.
One thing that hasn’t been mentioned is leadership. It might be more of a challenge to manage a team brimming with talent but would a good leader rather have a team of mediocre people?