Part 5 in our 5-part Managing Needy Team Members series.
As project managers, we often run into team members that require a great deal of attention. In an opening post for this series, we discussed a general approach to dealing with resources that need TLC. This post offers techniques for managing superstars, who are often in need of TLC but it is not as apparent.
Superstar Team Members Need TLC, Too
Generally speaking, we want superstars on our teams. But there are real risks associated with them that we cannot ignore:
- Superstars can easily take on a great share of the work and become a bottleneck
- They tend to burn out once in a while, requiring time off
- People trust superstar’s ideas outright without questioning, but the ideas aren’t always optimal
- Superstars can easily get re-allocated to another project, creating a sizeable void on the team
Typically superstars have a given domain where their skills are unmatched. If you touch that domain they get upset. So there is a fine line with regards to what you can or cannot control. What we find most effective is an increased transparency about what happens in the domain.
At the same time, you want to make all decision-making and tasks immediately outside the domain a team responsibility. Say you are dealing with a superstar developer who can whip out code faster than an Olympic sprinter. You would gain greater transparency into the code they produce by writing up detail specs for all development items. All the tasks around code development, such as design specifications, testing, documentation, etc. should be distributed throughout the rest of the team.
Creating better controls around superstar expertise is not necessarily TLC. Although you are ultimately protecting them from work overload and subsequent burnout. So the TLC in regards to superstars should start with frequent checks into their workload to make sure they are not getting “abused” because they are talented.
Another typical trait of superstars is that they often don’t have a life outside of work. As someone who genuinely cares about individual contributors, a good project manager might make it their personal goal to introduce a superstar to out-of-the-office fun activities. Take them to a wine tasting, a concert, or a book signing. The superstar will likely resist the offers but sincerely appreciate it once they see something new.
While you are mitigating risks, the rest of your team is learning about the areas of expertise that otherwise would be resting with just a superstar resource. They will definitely appreciate an added bonus.