Jul 21, 2019 | Updated: 08:54 AM EDT

Sports Teams Might Not Benefit From Plentiful Talent

Jun 16, 2014 05:25 PM EDT


In light of the National Basketball Association (NBA) Finals as well as the FIFA World Cup, researchers at INSEAD (The Business School of the World) decided to find out whether or not more talent is essential in a team's winning efforts.

The NBA Finals are approaching Game 4 of the series and the2014 World Cup begins on Thursday, June 12, at 4 p.m. There's no question about the talent level of the teams involved in these competitions. The Miami Heat, led by LeBron James and Dwyane Wade, are seeking their third straight NBA title, while Brazil is hosting this year's soccer event with arguably one of the best squads in the world.

But does superstar talent significantly maximize a team's chances of claiming a championship? Lead researcher, INSEADProfessor Roderick Swaab determined that after a certain point, further adding superstar talent to a team can harm its chances of winning down the road. This finding is based on heavy team-oriented sports, which is why the focus is on soccer and basketball. Why? Professor Swaab holds all the answers.

"Most people believe that the relationship between talent and team performance is linear - the more their team is packed with talent, the better they will do," explained Swaab, in thisEurekAlert news release. "Yet our latest research documenting a 'too-much-talent effect', reveals that for teams requiring high levels of interdependence, talent facilitates team performance... but only up to a point. Beyond this point, the benefits of adding more top talent will decrease and eventually hurt the team performance because they fail to coordinate their actions."

Swaab's research included data from the NBA and Major League Baseball (MLB) between 2002-2010 as well as the 2010 FIFA World Cup and the 2014 FIFA qualifying rounds. The researchers included information about baseball to help prove that the "too-much-talent effect" is mainly applicable to sports where the interdependence between players is most essential.

"Like sports teams, teams in organizations vary in their levels of interdependence. When team success merely depends on the accumulation of individual performance (e.g. sales teams), hiring and staffing could simply focus on getting the most talented individuals on board," Swaab continued. "When interdependence between team members is high, organizations could either hire a better mix of top talent and non-top talent and/or invest more in training to formalize roles, ranks, and responsibilities."

This is best epitomized from the 2011 NBA Finals, where the Miami Heat's "big three" - LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, and Chris Bosh - squared off against the Dallas Mavericks and their lone superstar Dirk Nowitzki. The Mavericks ended up winning the series in six games because they successfully complemented each other's strengths while sticking to their individual assignments crucial to gearing the team's motor. The researchers' say, on the other hand, the Heat players, only acquired at the beginning of the year, were looking to claim the spotlight, which ultimately affected their performance.

And this year, the Miami Heat are already down 2-1 to the San Antonio Spurs, who are one of the most team-oriented organizations in the NBA.


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