Pecking Order Problems? Your Team May Be Too Talented

Pecking Order Problems? Your Team May Be Too Talented

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We all want to hire the best of the best, but from the chicken coop to the basketball court, research demonstrates the most talented teams don’t always net the best results.

Adam Galinsky, Vikram S. Pandit Professor of Business, tells us what you should consider before hiring for your team.

Many leaders, executives, and entrepreneurs believe that: “the more talent, the better.” And while talent is very important, too much can be a very bad thing.

To understand why too much talent is a bad thing let’s first look at…chickens.

columbia-business-schoolNow if you’re a chicken producer, more eggs produce more profit. So what you naturally do is find the high egg-producing chickens, and breed for those chickens. But poultry farmers discovered an incredibly surprising finding: if they get all the high egg producing chickens together, egg production doesn’t go up, it actually goes down.

Turns out that the high egg producing chickens also happen to be the most competitive and dominant chickens. You get all these chickens together in one coop, and what do they do? They start fighting over food and territory and they start pecking each other literally to death.

Without a pecking order, what we get is conflict and chaos and therefore; worse team performance.

But certainly, people are more advanced than chickens, aren’t we?

To understand this, let’s travel from the coop to the basketball court.

We analyzed 10 seasons of NBA basketball and we measured talent and performance. And what we found was that more talent was better – but only up to a point. After that point, more talent led to worse performance.

So what suffers when you get too much talent onto a basketball court? Well, it turns out, coordination.

The high-talent basketball teams weren’t able to pass the balls effectively; they didn’t have as many assists. When you get too many talented basketball players together, a status conflict emerges. They all want to be the alpha player, and performance goes down because coordination goes down.

But, sometimes more talent actually is better, like in baseball.

So we took the same 10 seasons and analyzed them for Major League Baseball. And in this case, more talent was always better; we just had a linear shot where the more talent, the better performance.

Someone once called baseball “an individual sport, masquerading as a team sport.”

What that means is – you don’t need that much coordination in baseball. Batters bat sequentially in a fixed order, each fielder has some domain over their own part of the field, and because baseball doesn’t require a lot of coordination, we never get a too much talent effect, we get a more talent is always better effect.

The theories tested here aren’t just true in the coop and the court, they’re also true in many businesses.

If you have a team where people don’t need to coordinate and are independent actors, more talent is always better. So hire the best of the best.

However, if you have a team in which its members must coordinate, hire a range of talent in order to produce the greatest success.

Adam Galinsky is currently the chair of the Management Division and the Vikram S. Pandit Professor of Business at the Columbia Business School.

Professor Galinsky has published more than 200 scientific articles, chapters, and teaching cases in the fields of management and social psychology. His research and teaching focus on leadership, power, negotiations, decision-making, diversity, and ethics.

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