How to build a successful team – key personality types explained

Employment & Skills | How To | Opinion

Everywhere you look, from business to sports and entertainment, a well-functioning team is a clear factor for success. But how do successful teams work? What influence does the composition of the group have? And which personality profiles are particularly important in a successful team?

Business Leader spoke to Liam Butler, Area Vice President at SumTotal, to get some insight into the different personality types which contribute to a team’s success. 

Liam Butler, Area Vice President at SumTotal.
Liam Butler, Area Vice President at SumTotal.

Astronaut Chris Hadfield believes leadership ‘is about laying the groundwork for others’ success, and then standing back and letting them shine’. He should know – Chris Hadfield served as commander of the International Space Station (ISS), leading a multinational, cross-cultural team with diverse languages and backgrounds in one of the most extraordinary and hazardous environments. His remarks on leadership speak to the combined efforts of a team, with each member offering their unique skills and perspective to reach a common goal.

Looking at what makes up a successful team on a space mission offers an extreme – but useful – illustration of the importance of compatibility within a group. Every day, international teams successfully work together in confined spaces for weeks and months at a time on hugely significant projects.

And in 2033, NASA plans to send the first astronauts on the approximately 400m km journey to Mars. The interaction of astronauts and researchers on the three-year mission is one of the most important factors, so the US space agency has studied group dynamics in huge detail. In one test, groups were isolated for 45 days in a simulator to observe how they cope with work tasks, delayed communication with the outside world, stress, lack of sleep, and each other’s company.

Among many other things, studies like these have revealed that successful teams comprise a range of personality profiles to work effectively.

For example, everyone knows the impact of having too many ‘alpha’ personality types in a meeting. On the other hand, if nobody is prepared to take responsibility and set a direction within a team, it can be just as difficult to succeed.

The importance of team dynamics and personality types has been long established. Anthropologist Jeffrey Johnson, for example, observed the dynamics in small groups of 10 to 28 people at research stations in the Antarctic, while also evaluating records of earlier South Pole expeditions. He found that Roald Amundsen, the first man to reach the South Pole, would never have arrived there without his humorous cook, who was often able to dissolve tensions and motivate the group to keep moving forward. “He has contributed more to the Norwegian Polar Expedition than anyone else,” Amundsen noted in his diary in 1911.

However, you don’t need to look at a South Pole or Mars mission to observe positive and negative group dynamics.

Whether in sport or in a professional environment, numerous observations show that heterogeneous, neurodiverse groups, with different characters and roles, are particularly successful.

But, one of the challenges of creating such teams is that people have the tendency to form homogenous subgroups of members with similar skills, social backgrounds, age groups, etc.

In today’s organisations and businesses, HR executives and leaders should seek to support a heterogeneous team composition.

Typical roles and personality profiles in teams

Composing a well-functioning heterogeneous team requires recognition of people’s different personality types and understanding of how these fit into the team dynamic.

As well as being an effective way of finding suitable talents, considering personality profile is also helpful for employee development and helps to set suitable incentives to motivate people on a more personal basis.

Typically, people are categorised into six groupings or ‘roles’ based on their personality. These determine how they contribute best to a team and their motivations within the workplace. They are as follows:

The Leader

A dynamic individual with the confidence to provide their team with clear direction and purpose. They hold the ability to solve problems, remove obstacles, and take responsibility if things go wrong. They inspire team contribution, leading by example to be successful.

What motivates them:

Motivated by autonomy, the Leader enjoys proving themselves every step of the way by being tested with new challenges and greater responsibility. They long to lead and inspire a team who trusts in their guidance and actions.

The Clown

Humorous and reconciling, NASA and other researchers agree: “Every group needs a Clown.” Happy to listen and help solve their team members’ personal problems, they have the ability to resolve tensions and pave the way to re-focus the attention back on a common goal. Their laughter and encouragement of recreational activities, in addition to the actual work, supports team solidarity.

What motivates them:

Motivated by positive feedback and the trust of their colleagues, the Clown cares about what others think of them. While their extroverted character may worry their team leaders and HR managers, when given the time, they prove their worth and show their value to the team.

The Specialist

Expert in their field, the Specialist often has the technical or business capabilities necessary for the task and objectives set for them. However, this can mean they have tunnel vision, unable to lose sight of their specific task or think outside the box. Communication can be tricky for the Specialist, often finding it hard to comprehensively explain their thoughts to ‘non-experts’. However, they are valued for their knowledge and as such, most teams have at least one or more specialist.

What motivates them:

Specialists attach great importance to being appreciated for their technical expertise. However, it is just as important to support their integration into the group with a view of the overall goal. Communication training can help specialists to find their ideal place within the team, which will motivate them further.

The High-Performer

Always ready to roll up their sleeves and deliver maximum performance, every HR manager is on the lookout for a High-Performer. They are a lover of challenges, responsibility, and independence. A team leader in some groups, they have a tendency to be mentally agile and responsive to changing demands and structures. In some situations, they prefer to steer clear of the overall management in order to concentrate on concrete results and success. However, they are guaranteed to work hard to achieve this.

What motivates them:

Regular acknowledgment and rewards in recognition of their exceptional performance can help in retaining the High-Performer. They thrive when provided with continuous and varied projects and challenges. They also respond well to development opportunities and exciting career prospects.

The Expert

With a wealth of experience, the Expert can contribute their knowledge to help solve any problem. A calming influence and trusting member, they are happy to share their extensive knowledge with the rest of the team.

What motivates them:

Eager to help share their expertise with others, the Expert is motivated through development opportunities such as mentoring new employees or playing a key role in exchanges with other departments. They wish to be valued in the team for the experience and reliability that they contribute.

The New Member

Bringing valuable know-how and a fresh perspective, the New Member can provide inspiring impulses for the team’s task. However, their arrival can also lead to unrest in the team, changing the dynamics of the group.

What motivates them:

Starting in a new team is easier with a good induction plan and mentorship. Having a clear description of their responsibilities within the team and communication of the team’s goals can motivate the New Member to get the ball rolling. Furthermore, regular feedback, especially with regard to performance and career goals, is an important driver when starting out.

Conclusion

Whether it is a space mission to Mars or preparing for a client presentation, a successful and productive workforce is achieved through an effective combination of varying personalities. While these roles are informally assigned, a team thrives when each individual unconsciously fulfils their functional role within the group. For example, if the Leader is not in a position of responsibility, then conflicts are likely to arise.

As such, it is crucial that management assess whether a person’s personality is suited to a specific position.

Equally important is the consideration of their profile in terms of employee development, targeted support, motivation and feedback.

Modern talent management systems support an ongoing dialogue and feedback, the development and pursuit of career goals, and access to learning material to develop each employee’s skills.

As with anything in life, balance and diversity contributes to a well-functioning team and allows individuals to complement, rather than conflict, with those around them. The benefits of recognising and utilising people’s personality types are plentiful.

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