Johanna Rothman considers a management problem where a team has an extraordinarily productive employee in a team of average employees and suggests that the person may be more harmful than helpful:
Another manager has the problem of one person bringing down the expertise of the entire group by being an indispensable employee. Indispensable employees prevent other people from learning because they take care of things for other people. Other smart people don’t want to work with the indispensable employee because they don’t get the challenge of solving the problem themselves. Indispensable employees are quite dangerous to the long-term health and success of your group.
If you are faced with one really productive employee and some not-so-hot folks, reexamine your situation. Do you have a bottleneck or an indispensable employee? If so, fix the situation. They are not helping you.
It is easy to figure out what to do with a bottleneck employee, but how do you handle an employee who is sincerely working very hard? One of the comments on the post talked about “Free Electron” employees who are arrogant about their capability and disrupt the team. But that is not the general case. Sometimes, you just have a great employee who wants to and does contribute heavily.
From the viewpoint of the productive employee, they are not doing anything wrong. They will be very surprised and negatively shocked to know that they are somehow a “problem”. How do you tell an employee to contribute less? Can you fire or transfer someone for doing more work? This sound very much like the work policies put up by old-school unions to slow down work.
Now, the question is: Who is the productive employee preventing from learning? The answer shows a failure of management and a failure of imagination. There is a management failure because the manager is not hands-on enough to understand which person in his team is incapable of doing work by themselves and requires constant spoon-feeding. Those are the bottleneck employees that should be eliminated in the first place.
The failure of imagination comes from the question of other smart people. I find it difficult to believe that a team has so few challenges that one talented employee can take care of everything. If you think about it, there are so many possibilities and opportunities for research, problem-solving and learning. A manager who can only think of mundane tasks to delegate to his employees is not thinking deeply about the future of his team or product.
Having a very productive employee is a good problem to have. Yes, such an employee has the potential to negatively affect the other people in the team, but the answer is not to dampen their enthusiasm and energy, but to channel such enthusiasm into the proper tasks. Think harder and come up with greater challenges that will engage and excite them. That is also one way of retaining them.