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The way we TEAM matters

How Narcissism Affects Group Performance

A few years ago, I was approached by a participant at one of my workshops. She was doing her MBA at an Ivy League school which, graded both her personal performance and team work. On the outside, her team was what you could call an A-Team as it consisted of a successful investment banker, a strategy consultant, a tech company manager, a CFO of a large conglomerate, a director of a multinational company and an operations director of a large automotive company. There was no doubt they possessed the ability to provide expert advice to their technology start-up and finish top in the Mergers and Acquisitions exercise.

Paradoxically, they failed. Their failure was not the result of motivation; on the contrary, they all wanted to maintain their top marks. They didn’t succeed because their ego did not let them see beyond themselves.

This made me think of a story I read in the Harvard Business Review (May – June 2020) – ‘How Narcissism Affects Group Performance’. A research conducted on 2,460 NBA games played in the 2013-2014 season showed a direct correlation between the narcissism score assigned to individual players' twitter 'engagement' (based on the language and photos used in their Twitter accounts). In addition, the overall team correlation was measured by the number of assists (passes that directly lead to a field goal). The findings of the study have deep implications in the business world, since they demonstrate how individuals with high narcissistic scores negatively impact and influence the overall team performance. These scientific findings could possibly provide an explanation as to what happened to the A-team, touching on the root cause of their failure to deliver results together.

This article also made me reflect on the role of any manager and trainer acting as the ‘coach’ of a team, where the responsibility is to cater to the needs of each individual talent, nurture and develop it, while always keeping it in harmony with the team environment and performance. For a company, an offsite meeting, a workshop or a training are instances for observing and addressing the team dynamic. Preparing for these events by taking the time to speak to your ‘players’, understand their individual needs, wishes and aspirations, as well as their perspective within the team, is key to being able to create the right group chemistry. Through knowing them individually, you can best assess and harness their ‘narcissism score' towards the benefit of your team. You help them bring their best self to the ‘game’ thus helping their team (business) have a winning outcome. As an advertisement in the same Harvard Business Review magazine states, “Now more than ever, the way we team matters.”

As an aspiring manager I would urge you to ask yourself one question: “What can I do to make sure that each member of my team feels special and is recognized as a super player based on his or her talents, yet deeply connected to the A-team?”