Tuesday, June 17, 2014

What the NBA Can Teach Us About Lateral Recruiting

Is there such a thing as having too much talent? This is the perennial question facing the owners of big-time sports franchises—and it’s an interesting question for today’s hyper competitive lateral market. Does adding more and more talent add up to ever better law firm performance?

It turns out more talent improves team performance, but only to a point.

As Wray Herbert writes in a recent column on the Association of Psychological Science website,

“Surprisingly, this question has never been studied in a rigorous, scientific way—until now. A team of psychological scientists—headed up by Roderick Swaab of INSEAD—decided to explore the possibility of a too-much-talent effect—the notion that at some point adding one more superstar actually becomes detrimental to the team. They reasoned that internal jostling for team dominance would eventually undermine the coordination needed for team performance. They ran a series of experiments to test this idea, including one that focused on the NBA.

Swaab and colleagues looked at the regular season play of all NBA teams over a decade, from 2002 to 2012.  They computed individual talent, and team talent, by using the so-called Estimated Wins Added, or EWA, formula, which estimates the victories that any given player adds over and above what a replacement player would contribute. They had access to comprehensive play-by-play data from all the games, which they examined to tally team coordination—an amalgam of total assists, field goal percentage, and defensive rebounds. Team performance was simply winning percentage at the end of each season.

Then they crunched all the data together, with interesting results. Increasing talent was linked to better team performance—but only to a point. After that critical point, the benefit of more talent decreased and eventually turned negative. What’s more, it was clearly the diminished team coordination that hurt performance. That is, too much star talent undermined the selflessness that leads to team excellence. Or as sports analysts say, not enough basketballs."

Lessons from the Miami Heat’s four to one loss to the San Antonio Spurs in the NBA Finals may well be instructive for law firm leaders. Take care not to upset the delicate balance of your firm’s practice teams lest too much talent leads to too few basketballs.