The chemistry of effective teams

Throwing some people in to form a group and give them an assignment isn’t cutting it anymore. Of course, it is important to have the right skills in the team but to be really effective, that is not the only criteria.

Every team is a mix of certain personality types. When teams fall short of their potential, it’s often because leaders don’t know how to manage the differences in how people approach their work. Deloitte created a system called Business Chemistry that identifies four primary work styles and related strategies for accomplishing shared goals. I picked it up in the HBR March — April edition of 2017.

The fault with existing personality tests was that they weren’t tailored to the workplace, and they focused too much on personal introspection. That basically means “to look inside”, and describes the act of thinking about your actions and thoughts. Examining what you do say, think or feel and how it affects your life and the lives of others.

Here I’ll give a short, practical summary of the research.

Every team is a mix of four personality types:

  • Pioneers
  • Guardians
  • Drivers
  • Integrators

According to Deloitte’s research:

Pioneers value possibilities, and they spark energy and imagination on their teams. They believe risks are worth taking and that it’s fine to go with your gut. Their focus is on the bigger picture. They’re drawn to bold new ideas and creative approaches.

Guardians value stability, and they bring order and rigor. They’re pragmatic, and they hesitate to embrace risk. Data and facts are very important and details matter a lot. To a guardian, it makes sense to learn from the past.

Drivers value challenge and generate momentum. Getting results and winning count most. Drivers tend to view issues as black-and-white and tackle head on. Logic and data are what they use.

Integrators value connection and draw teams together. Relationships and responsibility to the group are kept in high regard. Integrators tend to believe that most things are relative. They’re diplomatic and focused on gaining consensus.

Each of us is a composite of the four work styles, though most people’s behavior and thinking are closely aligned with one or two.

The four styles give leaders and their teams a common language for discussing similarities and differences in how people experience things and prefer to work. Accordingly, teams come to recognize the potential power in their differences.

The solution in one sentence, according to the article:

To foster productive friction, leaders should pull opposite types closer, seek input from people with non-dominant styles, and pay attention to sensitive introverts, who risk being drowned out but have essential contributions to make.

It’s funny to note that most top leaders are Pioneers or Drivers. Because these are the most vocal styles, executive teams should look out for “cascades” and group think.

In a study of more than 23,000 professionals, more Guardians and Integrators reported being stressed out than anyone else. To benefit from their strengths on your team, look for ways to ease the pressure and help them feel psychologically safe.

In general, teams that feel psychologically safe have been shown to outperform those that do not.

One leader who is really skilled in facilitating this did the following:

Before meetings that included introverted team members, she would tell them what the discussion would focus on, often making specific requests to facilitate their involvement: “will you say something about X topic or comment on section Y when we get to it in the meeting?”

Guardians and quiet integrators spend a lot of time and energy reviewing their own mistakes, so it is important to create an environment where good faith efforts are celebrated even when they fail.

After all,

“The deepest principle in human nature is the craving to be appreciated”

-William James