The reason why I don’t want Superstars on my project team

Photo by Camargo Anthony from Pexels

Delivering projects is a team sport. Whether you are working agile or not, it’s important to have people willing to get the job done, talking and teaching each other, even if it deviates slightly from their main assignment. Successful projects promote knowledge sharing and enrich their people with both technical experience and human interaction.

Superstars” in my definition are those people that excel in their domain, they are seen as experts by the experts, but at the same type they have strong histrionic personality traits, meaning they act like drama queens and kings, requiring constant spotlights. This is the strongest differentiator between superstars and experts.

As any project manager, I want to have, of course, well trained people in my team, as good as the project budget can buy. Due to budget constraints, you need to hire both seniors and juniors to keep a profitable cost balance. This results into a reduce percentage of seniors / experts, many people with average experience (or skills) and at least a few juniors. The key for everyone to thrive is for the experienced ones to have the patience and willingness to teach others. If they do that, they can focus more on tasks requiring their advanced knowledge and the others will be happy to do something meaningful with the time they spend at work, by learning and applying new things.

Superstars, on the other hand, being histrionic and always narcissistic, will get you to spend more time with the drama they create than with the quality they deliver. Such people are usually a root cause of conflicts because they don’t share their knowledge and not even the information. They have a tendency to humiliate others so that their superiority gets recognised. A typical phrase you could hear from such people is:

It’s not my job to tell you this (communicate) or explain you that (teach), go to your team lead. I am an expert in […] . If your lead doesn’t know that (dismiss others), maybe he shouldn’t be in charge (but guess who should be?). If you want to get to my level, you have to work hard and be smart (like I am! -> justify wrong behaviour), not have fun at work

They are disruptors and create negative emotions inside the team which make people leave your project and as I’ve said in the beginning: delivering projects is a team sport. You can’t do the job with just two people that are superstars. NBA games are not won by the MVP alone.

It often happens that such drama queens and kings have also obsessive compulsory traits, wanting everything to be perfect, but according to their definition of perfection. They succumb in their own play, a fair ending under the spotlight. By refusing to teach others, they often keep all the major tasks for themselves, because the others are “too dumb to do them” and then complain they are overworked. They may want them to have a dramatic exit, leaving you with unfinished work, right before the delivery date.

I underline that such people should not be mistaken with true experts, that have a positive mindset and are willing to teach others. In fact this ‘superstar’ model I’ve just describe is dangerous for any organisation and should be prevented from entering it, during the HR interview. However this is not always possible, as humans evolve and some people start as positive team mates and – for a variety of reasons – they become this way. The sort of behaviour described above affects teams and delays projects, while a manager’s role is to see the bigger picture and oversee the wealth of the many.