“What can you do about smart jerks? I.e. People whose skills are indispensable to the team but who bring others down?”
Nothing brings a team down like team members who put themselves before the rest. In the short run, talented but selfish people may help you, but in the long run they can destroy you.
Take advantage of the strengths of “smart jerks” by turning them into cognitive inputs—and minimize the damage they can do by taking them off the permanent team, thereby taking away their influence.
Remember, your “team” is whoever you include to help you explore The Mountain. And these team members don’t have to be permanent.
Team members can be simply “Inputs.” You can tap into someone’s different and additive perspectives and heuristics, say thank you, and not give them “Influence” on the course of events.
Sometimes it actually pays to keep smart jerks in your “brain trust,” because they will have ways of thinking that you don’t. The key to getting the benefits from this without a toxic effect on your team is to insulate the team from them. Get their knowledge yourself and bring it to the table with your permanent team. Just don’t make the smart jerk a leader.
Actions speak louder than words. So if you make exceptions for toxic people just because they are smart, you undermine the rest of your efforts to build a great team.