Do you need Rockstars?

Everyone has probably seen a job ad for a “rockstar” team member, or perhaps it’s come under a different name like “ninja”, or you may just know them as “heroes”. How would you define something like this? Usually people are looking for the expert / saviour that will help get things over the line even when things are tough.

In reality, what this often manifests in are individuals who are working for their own purpose, rather than that of the organisation. Oftentimes, these individuals tend not to share knowledge and often work alone since the sharing of knowledge would threaten their position as the “rockstar”.

The effect that this kind of behaviour can have includes sub-optimising the system and creating a bottleneck – since only one person can solve all of the tough problems they quickly get overwhelmed with work. Since they won’t reach out for help it becomes an escalating problem as more and more work get’s backed up in front of the bottleneck.

It can also have problems on team morale – when team members see people acting as individuals, then they will start to either resent those people pushing them further from the group and / or give others permission to act for their personal interest rather than the organisation’s interest.

You can start to see how one policy of hiring “rockstars” can have multiple impacts on the overall system of work. Is it really the rockstar who is to blame here, or is it the system of work and the leaders that allow this behaviour to continue?

In discussion at our local lean coffee group, one of the members used the example of a football (soccer) team. In which, he said he wants those superstars on his team because they convert those rare opportunities into goals that win matches. However, they often have rules in place to ensure that the star players don’t get ahead of the team – with systemic solutions such as dropping a player for a week if they act in their personal interest rather than the team / clubs interest (for example by not passing the ball in certain situations).

I think therein lies the solution – you can have great people in your teams so long as the system is set up so they continue to work in the organisation / team’s best interest, rather than their own. Set up the system so that great people can work together to achieve great outcomes and put in place measure that allow this to happen and prevent the need for heroes.