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When two stars collide, beware of epic brawls

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in Leaders & Managers,Team Building

Before this NBA season began, commentators fretted about the Cleveland Cavaliers. The team already featured LeBron James, the league’s Most Valuable Player last year. But then it acquired four-time NBA champion Shaquille O’Neal in June 2009.

Many observers feared that two superstars with outsized egos could not possibly put the team first. And early hints of conflict emerged as neither player seemed overly thrilled to share the spotlight.

While it’s an open question whether the two will lift their team to a championship, the issue of getting two high-performing, self-aggrandizing stars to work together resonates for many managers. People who hog credit and dislike playing second fiddle may work to undermine high-flying peers.

To encourage teamwork between titans, you need two elements in place:

A shared goal. For James and O’Neal, the real test is whether—deep down—they covet a championship above self-glory. Both have reputations at stake and statistics that live for posterity. Breaking individual records may lead to big endorsement contracts, so can they forgo such lucre for team victories?

Similarly, confirm that each of your top performers places collective accomplishments above their own. If they don’t, create incentives for cooperation (not competition). Otherwise, tensions will mount.

Defined roles. Every team member—whether in sports or business—must have an assigned function. If you define each person’s role and gain everyone’s buy-in, you’re going to reduce conflict among the proudest, most talented contributors.

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