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Performance Management

Sometimes Superstars Don’t Make a Super Team

February 4, 2015
3 min read
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Performance Management, Supercharged


A-players are coveted employees for every organization. While they tend to have exceedingly impressive records, (i.e., employment history, successful projects, high-level training program participation) individual performance is not necessarily an indication of team success. These organizational superstars are statistically smarter and more productive, giving companies the edge they need to be competitive in their respective industry marketplace. If superstars are so wonderful, then why don’t superstars make a super team?

Organizational research pushes companies to identify their A-players and pour training and resources into them. It is critical to develop these employees and give them growth opportunities. Unfortunately, developing these superstar employees alone doesn’t develop the team as a whole. The assumption that a team of high performers makes a high-performing team is a fallacy.

What exactly is a superstar employee?

You’ll notice, as your team begins to grow, certain employees stand out above the rest. Their work is higher quality, they are more dedicated, and simply put, they drive the performance of their team and the organization. Superstar employees have a heightened ability to prioritize in such a way that enables the company to work smarter and more efficiently. Because of these qualities, they excel among their teammates.

High-performing superstar employees have a higher emotional intelligence as well. Subsequently, this enables them to raise performance and productivity rates of the employees around them. In fact, after the star employee is integrated into the team, department-level output increases 54%. What’s more interesting is that impact lasts long after the superstar employee no longer has direct contact with the team. The departmental output still increases by 48%.

What happens when a team is superstar-heavy?

Superstar employees can sometimes have trouble bonding with their teams. Because A-players have a tendency towards the desire to stand out and excel among teammates, a team of superstars isn't an ideal amalgamation of employees. As soon as these employees begin to excel, it creates a gap between them and the rest of the team. It can create a somewhat hostile environment in which employees withhold resources and information from the A-player as a form of discrete victimization.

A-player individuals are driven by praise and want credit for projects they have a part in. So, the atmosphere with a team full of superstars can become highly competitive and therefore counterproductive. Competition is healthy in the workplace because it does in fact drive performance. When that competition becomes unhealthy however, the team dynamic falls into a toxic cloud of hyper-aggressive professional behavior.

Tara-Nicholle Nelson (@taranicholle), Vice President of Marketing at MyFitnessPal, said:

“When multiple A-listers are on one team, unless the culture aggressively fosters collaboration and cooperation, they can become competitive with each other, hoard resources, and spend way too much time focusing on what each other is doing, versus focusing on beating your company’s actual competitors in the marketplace.”

Aside from competition within teams, managers who organize these teams have to think about the effects of diversity within the group. High-performing star employees may have similar ideas as a result of their similar dispositions. This isn’t a good scenario for effective teamwork. To promote creative thinking, teams need to consist of various skill sets and performance levels. Scott McKain (@scottmckain), Author of business book, Create Distinction: What to Do When Great Isn’t Good Enough to Grow Your Business, said:

“Teams are most productive when they stimulate innovative thought and propose original approaches to achieving the goals… If the team members all think alike - every person in the group is unnecessary, except one.”

Quality of work, performance, and dedication to the company and their position are key characteristics of potential star employees. While superstar employees are must-haves in any organization to drive performance, they don’t always work well together. Their need for praise and managerial approval can leave them emotionally separated from their teams. It might make sense to have a group of superstars to make a great team. Unfortunately, they are driven to excel above their teammates, so a team of high-performing superstar employees becomes a highly competitive and counterproductive entity.


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