How Team Member Personalities Influence Team Performance

Instructor: Scott Tuning

Scott has been a faculty member in higher education for over 10 years. He holds an MBA in Management, an MA in counseling, and an M.Div. in Academic Biblical Studies.

As working teams become increasingly common in the workplace, managers must coordinate many personalities. This lesson provides practical guidance for maximizing team performance.

It Just Wouldn't Be a Team Without Him

We've all worked with one: that guy. Any time he's on the team, it's all about him. He monopolizes the conversation and never ceases to recount his amazing exploits. His most annoying trait, however, is that he's simply wrong about everything. He rarely has the facts and can always be counted on to propose the most bizarre solutions to simple problems.

On the other end of the spectrum, we've all worked with the introvert. They have a lot to offer the group, but getting them to be confident in their decisions is another story. They offer an opinion only if asked and often get rolled over by the team members who are louder and prouder than they are. So... How exactly is a manager supposed to make this work?

That guy; there is always one on the team.

We Want Team Players... Or Do We?

In his book, At the Center of the Storm, former CIA director George Tenet speaks of how his turnaround at the organization was largely the result of reconstituting the agency's teams. After assuming the office, Tenant speaks about how interpersonal dysfunction in CIA teams led to massive intelligence failures.

The former director mentions how some employees, with ambition to become rising stars, withheld intelligence from others within the organization in an effort to maximize their own personal benefit. In another team challenge, Tenet reflects on how the pay scale at the agency also affected team dynamics; many individuals who were an excellent fit in their job could only promote by moving to another role or department. When these individuals joined teams to which they could only make poor contributions, infighting became fierce and the teams fractured.

When teams are dysfunctional, chaos ensues.

Personality Instead of Perfection

In 2016, internet giant Google invested significant resources to identify the characteristics that make interdisciplinary teams effective. Google's findings definitively supported the idea that communication and emotional intelligence are the key factors in successful teams, not subject matter, expertise, or skill.

Other scientific research that parallels the study done by Google and further supports the notion that personalities are far more important than skill. Those studies, however, go farther than Google and identify some essential characteristics for an effective team. These personalities are:

  • Curious and inquisitive
  • Coolheaded and emotionally stable
  • Able to adapt, be dynamic, and demonstrate flexibility

But how do these characteristics actually impact a team?

Why Personality Matters

Solid research shows that soft skills definitively lead to team members who have influence, the ability to secure cooperation, and an exceptionally high exchange of knowledge and information. Referring back to our examples of interdisciplinary teams at the CIA, Director Tenet's book outlines the specific steps he took to facilitate teams to include people with the aforementioned positive characteristics.

The CIA's ''Red Cell''

With regard to the curious and inquisitive personality, Tenet formed a team he called the ''Red Cell.'' The team's only purpose was to be antagonistic to the decisions made by others within the organization. Their charter called for them to play devil's advocate on all major decisions. Their specific instructions included thinking way outside the box to look for weaknesses or exceptional strengths in the decisions. The team was quite literally told to come up with the most crazy and bizarre possibilities that surrounded every significant agency decision.

Although you may think this narrative has little to do with teams and business, it's actually quite applicable. Tenet's Red Cell wasn't just a team of crazy people who came up with weird stuff; they were, in fact, conducting a SWOT analysis. Businesses conduct this kind of analysis all the time to identify strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats. Tenet's CIA teams became far more functional and effective when curiosity drove them, like in the Red Cell. Despite its interesting name, businesses should always have a team with a similar role.

Contrarian thinking is an important part of any team.

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