Personalities, Not Skills, Drive Team Performance

Early last year, Google claimed it had discovered the secret formula for the “perfect team”. After spending years analysing interviews and data from over 100 teams, the tech giant said the factors for effective team performance are its average level of emotional intelligence and a high degree of interpersonal communication. Google’s formula of being nice and joining in makes sense.

However, what comes as a surprise is that Google’s research implies that the type of people in the team aren’t so crucial. While this factor could hold true at Google, where people are preselected on the basis of their personality (or “Googliness”), this finding does not synergise with the wider scientific evidence that points out that personalities of team members is crucial in determining team performance.

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To be specific, personality affects:

Your role in the team
The way you interact with the team
Whether the values you hold dear are in alignment with that of the team

It should be noted that these processes affect psychological factors (rather than technical skills) underlying the individual and team performance. These psychological factors determine whether people work well together. There may often come times when you and your team member may not be on the same page despite the two of you having similar expertise and technical backgrounds.

For example, a study of 133 factory teams in Taiwan found that higher levels of interpersonal sensitivity, curiosity, and emotional stability resulted in more-cohesive teams and increased prosocial behaviour among team members.More-effective teams had more cool-headed, inquisitive, and altruistic people. Hence, it goes to show that who you are affects how you behave and interact with others, and the personalities of individual team members contributes to the functioning of a team in the same way as our organs with different functions must work in sync to ensure we live.

A useful way to think about teams with the right mix of skills and personalities is to consider the two roles each member plays in a working group:

1. Functional role – Based on an individual’s formal position and technical skill
2. Psychological role – Based on the kind of person an individual is

Organisations, however, focus merely on the functional role and hope that good team performance follows. This is why even the most expensive professional sports teams often fail to perform despite being spoilt for choice in the individual talent department. A lack of psychological synergy is to blame here. An effective approach would be to equally focus on people’s personalities as on their skills.

Psychological team roles are, more often than not, a product of people’s personalities.Source

For example, consider team members who are:

Results-driven: Team members naturally organise work and take charge tend to be socially self-confident, competitive, and energetic.

Relationship-centric: Team members naturally focus on relationships, attuned to others’ feelings, and are good at building cohesion. They tend to be warm, diplomatic, and approachable.

Process-driven: Team members pay attention to details, processes, and rules. They tend to be reliable, organised, and conscientious.

Innovative disrupters: Team members naturally focus on innovation, anticipate problems, and recognise when the team needs to change. They tend to be imaginative, curious, and open to new experiences.

Pragmatist: Team members who are practical, hard-headed challengers of ideas and theories. They tend to be prudent, emotionally stable, and level-headed.

Observing the balance of roles in a team provides a glimpse into group dynamics. It also indicates the likelihood of success or failure for an assigned task.

Hence, it is prudent to use these kinds of profiles to assess how an incoming team members will impact performance and group dynamics.Source

Renowned teams researcher Suzanne Bell, working on the Mars project for NASA, explained: “We assume that astronauts are intelligent, that they’re experts in their technical areas, and that they have at least some teamwork skills. What’s tricky is how well individuals combine.”

Thus, it is imperative that each team member is evaluated individually to understand whether they will function effectively together. Hence, successful teams always get their concoction of personalities right.

Magnum Opus can help organisations build effective teams. To find out more, contact us at or call us at 011-42676768.

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