Narcissists make bad teammates—in the NBA and your workplace

Group of basketball players making faces while taking a selfie on the court.

Release Date: March 7, 2019

Emily Grijalva headshot.
“Narcissists prevent good things from happening.”
Emily Grijalva, Assistant Professor of Organization and Human Resources
University at Buffalo School of Management

BUFFALO, N.Y.—Narcissists curb team performance, according to a new study from the University at Buffalo School of Management.

The researchers analyzed NBA teams and found that those with higher average and maximum levels of narcissism, as well as higher narcissist members in key roles (point guard), had poorer coordination and lower overall performance, in a study recently made available online ahead of publication in the Academy of Management Journal.

Narcissism is characterized by a grandiose sense of self-importance—believing that you’re more important and special than other people—as well as lacking empathy for others.

“Narcissists prevent good things from happening,” says lead author Emily Grijalva, PhD, assistant professor of organization and human resources in the UB School of Management. “Over time, lower levels of narcissism result in teams being able to fully capitalize on the benefits of getting to know each other.”

In addition, the coordination and performance differences between low and high narcissism teams strengthened over time. Teams with lower narcissism saw improvements in coordination, while teams with higher narcissism stagnated—they maintained the same level of coordination over time, failing to achieve the benefits that normally occur as team members get to know each other.

For the study, the researchers developed a coding guide to analyze the narcissism levels of nearly 35,000 tweets and the Twitter profile pictures of about 400 NBA players. They then used the results of every game from the NBA 2013-14 regular season—2,460 games in total, to determine the impact of narcissists on overall team performance.

Study co-author Timothy Maynes, PhD, assistant professor of organization and human resources in the UB School of Management, says companies should consider narcissism when forming teams and avoid putting highly narcissistic members in the most critical team roles.

“Narcissists tend to be attracted to prestigious and powerful positions and are likely to emerge as leaders,” says Maynes. “It may be easier to submit to narcissists’ demands in the short term, but this will result in long-term costs to the team.”

When you can’t avoid putting narcissists on a team, the researchers say to base at least some compensation on team performance, which will force members to depend upon one another and narcissists to behave more collegially.

Grijalva and Maynes collaborated on the study with UB School of Management doctoral student Katie Badura, as well as Steven Whiting, associate professor of management at the University of Central Florida College of Business.

The UB School of Management is recognized for its emphasis on real-world learning, community and economic impact, and the global perspective of its faculty, students and alumni. The school also has been ranked by Bloomberg Businessweek, Forbes and U.S. News & World Report for the quality of its programs and the return on investment it provides its graduates. For more information about the UB School of Management, visit mgt.buffalo.edu.

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