Narcissists may need correction for better team performance
|Datum:||14 april 2020|
Most people dislike working with narcissistic colleagues who are arrogant, manipulative, and overconfident. However, some narcissistic people are also high-achievers who tend to go for the strong-willed and talented, especially during crisis times. An interesting question is, whether narcissist employees actually have a positive influence on the performance of teams or organizations. Previous research revealed mixed findings on this.
What is narcissism? Narcissism is a relatively stable individual trait that often contains three components: the narcissistic self that creates the sense of entitlement and specialness, the narcissistic relation that contains low empathy, and the narcissistic strategy to maintain self-views such as bragging. It is quite common to observe narcissism at the top of organizations, such as from CEOs and powerful politicians. Studies of leadership have shown that narcissism has its bright side of manifesting confidence and charismatic to followers, and people with high narcissism are more likely to be selected into leadership roles (for a review, see Grijalva, Harms, Newman, Gaddis, & Fraley, 2015). However, narcissism is not only a cognitive trait of believing in one’s superior abilities, but also a motivational mechanism for individuals to affirm it. Those leaders often engage in bold and radical strategic actions, which cause huge and fluctuating performance (more big wins and big losses) for their organizations (Chatterjee & Hambrick, 2007).
In an experimental study that my colleague Yingjie Yuan and I recently conducted, we required participants to describe characteristics of one person in their life that they dislike. We found that the word narcissistic occurs quite frequently. Not only in our life, narcissistic colleagues are also unpopular in the workplace, to the extent that “how to defeat a narcissist at work” becomes a trending search hashtag. A recent study has shown that high levels of narcissism in teams undermine its capability to pool task competence and coordinate effectively (Grijalva, Maynes, Badura, & Whiting, 2020). The authors analyzed data from National Basketball Association teams in year 2013 - 2014, and found that “teams with higher mean and maximum levels of narcissism as well as higher narcissism members in core roles (i.e., central and influential roles) had poorer coordination and in turn performance than teams with lower levels”, and such effects were even more profound in teams where members were more familiar with others.
The reason behind those findings were also proposed by the authors. For teams with high mean level of narcissism, team members tend to primarily striving for self-interest such as superiority and status, and devote less effort to maintain harmonious relationships with others. Similarly, when team members observe an extremely high narcissistic member (i.e., team maximum narcissism), they may choose to withdraw time and effort for collective goals, so that they do not feel exploited. Core members who hold central positions in the workflow have a greater influence on team performance. If the core member in teams are highly narcissistic, their egocentric behaviors are more likely to spread and followed by other team members, which could sabotage interpersonal cooperation and the achievement of collective goals. Finally, the authors pointed out that familiarity “provides more opportunities for narcissists’ negative interpersonal tendencies to surface and subsequently damage team relationships”.
An important practical implication of this study is that predicting team performance based on team members’ expertise and talent can be problematic. Information of a team’s narcissism composition is also essential. The authors therefore suggested that organizations should assess and consider narcissism when building up teams or recruiting team members, especially for centric work positions. In addition, motivating narcissistic individuals to work for collective benefits via extrinsic rewards may also be helpful for better team performance.
Author information: Suqing Wu (s.wu rug.nl) is a PhD student specializing in Team Creativity. She studies how newcomers affect team members to achieve creative outcomes and currently works on a project about role differentiation in creativity processes.
Chatterjee, A., & Hambrick, D. C. (2007). It's all about me: Narcissistic chief executive officers and their effects on company strategy and performance. Administrative Science Quarterly, 52(3), 351-386.
Grijalva, E., Harms, P. D., Newman, D. A., Gaddis, B. H., & Fraley, R. C. (2015). Narcissism and leadership: A meta‐analytic review of linear and nonlinear relationships. Personnel Psychology, 68(1), 1-47.
Grijalva, E., Maynes, T. D., Badura, K. L., & Whiting, S. W. (2020). Examining the “I” in team: A longitudinal investigation of the influence of team narcissism composition on team outcomes in the NBA. Academy of Management Journal, 63(1), 7-33.