Star Teams and Star Players

Recently a team of Bain & Company consultants published an article in the Harvard Business Review about making star teams out of star players. If you know that top performers in any field outperform ‘others’ by a factor of 2, 3 or even 6 or more it is not hard to imagine what could happen if you put these star performers together in a team.

The authors say “the easy answer” and “conventional wisdom” holds that all-star teams “just” don’t work (egos take over, stars don’t work well together, they drive the team leader crazy, etc.). With some trepidation I admit that I belong in the easy answer/conventional wisdom category (however much it pains me to fit under this label:-).

The challenge with all-star teams is not in the high individual performances, the challenge is to serve the team’s effectiveness level. “The effectiveness of a team will depend on the extent to which members correctly recognize and adjust themselves to the relative strengths within the team.” (definition by M. Belbin)

In all star teams you will need mature team members to do this. Very often this is simply not the case (we used to refer to these teams as “Real Madrid” teams*). When team members reach the star player level they often forget the role of the wider system they are working in and are depending on. This is only illustrated when the star moves to a different company (or club). Nitin Nohria writes about this in his well-researched article: ”The risky business of hiring stars.”

Now, the Bain & Company consultants also understand how hard it is to have all-star teams. First, they reject the conventional wisdom. Then, they encourage us to create all-star teams using 1. good talent management, 2. only for mission-critical projects, and  have 3. tough-minded leadership. However, at the end they go full-circle indicating why it often does not work: big egos, overshadowing the rest and mediocre leaders. Right, we are back at conventional wisdom: “Growing old is mandatory; growing up is optional.“ (Quote: Chili Davis).

* if you are a Real Madrid fan please insert a different football** club

** For North American readers insert soccer here.

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