A Model for Creating High-Performing Teams

How to Select Team Members that contribute to a Healthy Team Culture

“Software is eating the world,” they say and it’s certainly true. But I’d argue that teams are eating the world as well. (Maybe it’s not a coincidence that basically all modern software is created by teams.) Gone are the days when it was all about individual contribution and achievement. Nowadays, many organizations have realized that while the individual employee is important, hardly any significant contribution comes from individuals alone, but from high-performing teams. It’s the team that’s unlocking and amplifying the potential of its members to the point where the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.

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Hard Skills

This is what you would expect: A person’s hard, often technical, skills and work experience. This is what most companies tend to hire for. It’s the stuff that goes on someone’s resume.

Personality Characteristics

Here we are looking at the various personality characteristics of a team member. Examples: Are they an extrovert or introvert, quiet or bubbly, energetic or reserved, spontaneous or deliberate, logical or emotional? What’s their level of EQ? What cultural background do they have? How do they respond in certain situations? How do they relate to others? (Answers to these types of questions are admittedly not represented on the resume and harder to assess during interviews.)

Team Cultural Contribution

The combination of hard skills and personality characteristics determine each member’s team cultural contribution. Think of it as net impact. Given a certain existing team composition, what impact does a new member’s combination of skills and personality characteristics have on the team? Does she add to the team culture and its diversity through her skills and characteristics? Is the impact neutral? Or could the combination negatively affect the team, for example, by tipping the scales too much towards homogeneity in a specific area?

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Adding a potential new member to an existing team

Organizational Culture

Teams don’t exist in a vacuum. They are contained and live within the cultural context of the organization that surrounds them. Since team cultures are unique and a function of their respective members, it’s possible that some teams develop cultures that are significantly different from the company culture. Teams certainly influence the overall organizational culture; however, since companies often consist of dozens or even hundreds of teams, the reverse effect is significantly stronger, i.e., the company culture has a material impact on the teams’ cultures. While some teams may be able to resist an adverse company culture and be reasonably healthy, a toxic company culture will ultimately poison many of the teams.

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Organizational culture and team cultures influencing each other

In Practice

Next time you consider adding a new member to an existing team, make it a point to ask deliberate questions:

  • Does she possess the skills the team needs in the next 3, 6, or even 12 months?
  • How does this person’s experience balance out the experiences already present on the team?
  • What personality traits are currently underrepresented or missing on the team?
  • What personality characteristics does the potential new member appear to possess? (Reference checks might help provide more definitive answers.)
  • How might these characteristics impact the existing team dynamics?
  • Does she add to the diversity of the team, have no significant impact from that perspective, or shift the balance in a potentially unhealthy direction (e.g., towards homogeneity)?
  • Given the person’s skills and personality characteristics, what is the expected overall net impact on the team culture, i.e., their team cultural contribution?

Written by

Product guy, thinker, Agilist, developer, and exercise fanatic.

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