The Psychology of Building the Best Teams For Effective Business Management

Using a scientific approach in the creation of teams is key to optimizing their efficiency

Leon Okwatch
Mar 5 · 6 min read
Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

In the current business ecosystem, the lone wolf is getting endangered. The prevailing scenario is that businesses across all fields are compelled to find ways of working together to achieve decent results.

But this isn’t as easy as it sounds. The main challenge lies in bringing together people with different strengths, characters, ideologies, and professional backgrounds to focus on one goal. Many businesses fail to optimize the performance of their teams due to a lack of the correct cognitive basis on which the teams are built.

Psychologists have been on the search for the vital elements and processes that make human collaborations more efficient and successful. The new school of thought is that which appreciates the existence of subtle scientific influences behind the success of effective teams.

Most of the insights psychologists are currently exploring come from the observation of the organizational structure of military teams. Businesses can learn a lot from the streamlined nature that defines the structure of military teams.

Here are a few gems that promise to transform your team selection processes.

Optimizing team composition

Sometimes, team members integrate and work seamlessly, building on their strengths and complementing each other’s weaknesses. Other times, this ends up being a pipe dream.

A team’s success depends mostly on its composition. So what’s the secret recipe to building the best teams?

The Science of Teamwork, a series published in a special issue of American Psychologist, explores this in broad detail.

The studies show that surface-level attributes such as age, gender, and reputation of individual team members aren’t the aspects that matter most. Instead, it's the hidden deep level factors such as personality traits, values, abilities, resilience, originality, and adaptability that tend to have the biggest impact.

The deep-level factors constitute what experts refer to as the ABCs of teamwork; that is, the attitudes, behavior, and cognitive states.

The ABCs are flexible depending on the context and functions of every team. If the team's objective is to design something innovative, it's wise to include diverse thinkers who bring a range of knowledge, skills, and abilities. On the contrary, if the team’s job is to optimize efficiency, there is less need for diverse attitudes.

The personality traits of team members also matter a lot. If possible, it’s advisable to hire people with personality traits that complement each other rather than focusing on a few desired traits.

The IPIP-NEO test is one of the most reliable personal assessment tools you can use to understand the personality traits of your team members.

Taskwork vs. Teamwork

The type of work a team is formed to execute determines how they should collaborate.

Taskwork is the work teams need to do to complete a project, regardless of the level of corporation necessary. Teamwork, in contrast, is the interrelated thoughts, feelings, and behaviors of team members— comparable to the ABCs — that enable them to work effectively together.

In task-oriented teams, it’s usually the leader who delegates duties and keeps everyone in check. The leader is also the one who takes credit for the team’s success and bears accountability for its failure. The rest of the team is supposed to focus on following orders from the team leader and there is little room for their contributions to the decisions of the team.

In true teamwork, members take advice and direction from each other, recognizing the skills, abilities, and insights each person has. All members of the team take part in the decision-making process and they are equally responsible for its successes and failures.

Whereas these two approaches fall on the opposite ends of the spectrum, there are scenarios where each of them is best suited. A data entry team may fall under the task work tag while their product development counterparts will require true teamwork.

In essence, how well people work together may be more important than how well they work on tasks and vice versa.

The distinction between the two may seem narrow. However, it is crucial to understand the elements that allow teams to function well.

Not all teams are the same

Whether to have a big or small team is a question most businesses struggle to answer. Given the chance, most organizations will settle for the “big is better” alternative.

The truth of the matter is that the size of the team should be dependent on its purpose. Some teams operate at their maximum potential when they are small while others leverage the power of numbers.

While the concept that two heads are better than one is often true, it is not always the case that ten heads are better than two.

If you want a team to generate new ideas, solve problems or troubleshoot, then a smaller team would be more suitable. Using large teams for these purposes will result in a lot of internal friction due to the solutions posited becoming overwhelming to the members.

It can also result in groupthink. Groupthink refers to a situation where a majority of the members process information in the same way and develop similar opinions. When this happens, bad ideas may be accepted, and good ideas overlooked.

Large teams are suitable for tasks that require little independent judgment or the processing of complex concepts. Members of large teams are expected to follow directions from their superiors therefore an element of groupthink is slightly encouraged.

Focus on values, not results

The purpose of every team is to deliver some desired results. Once a team achieves commendable results, it almost always enters the rinse-and-repeat cycle where they try to reproduce the same.

This preoccupation with results makes the team complacent and insensitive to the shifting dynamics of the business world. Good results today may not always guarantee better results in the future.

Furthermore, results are expressed as statistics. Customers are more than statistics. In addition to providing great products and services, their emotional needs need to be considered, and their emotional needs keep changing. Only the smartest business can address this by focusing on certain values.

A team that focuses on values will always have an adaptable benchmark on which to base its decisions. Values are meant to address the intrinsic needs of the clients, partners, and the organization as a whole.

Values bring the empathy element to the decision-making table. The result is that the organization will have a pool of satisfied customers, employees, and partners.

Rather than optimizing teams to be result-generating machines, it pays to train them to look beyond the statistics and understand the values the business is built on.

Diversity is key

Diversity ensures that the team has a variety of different insights to base their decisions. It’s a key factor in developing the paradox mindset which has been identified as a recipe for innovation and efficiency.

For instance, a team purely composed of intellectuals is likely to have a lopsided view of the subject matter. It’s important to even out the team’s composition to ensure an array of voices and ideas are considered.

When team members learn to appreciate their differences, the urge for unhealthy competition is reduced. Instead, the team becomes stronger by learning to recognize that shared experiences are more powerful than their differences.

Refining team-selection techniques

The current pressure on organizations to deliver amidst cut-throat competition has led to the demand for surgical precision in the formation of teams. Different team formation models are under development to address this need.

Recently, researchers began working on developing algorithms that can help organizations create effective teams for specific goals. The algorithms are currently being tested by NASA to select crew members best suited to work together on long-distance space missions.

Such modern methods will ensure that organizations have the correct criteria to select the best teams and tailor them to perform distinct purposes.

In the long run, the more we can manage teams using a scientific basis, the better our teams will be.

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Leon Okwatch

Written by

Medical Student. Polymath. Original thinker and thought leader in STEM. Lifetime learner. Aspiring product manager for innovative digital health solutions.

The Startup

Get smarter at building your thing. Follow to join The Startup’s +8 million monthly readers & +799K followers.

Leon Okwatch

Written by

Medical Student. Polymath. Original thinker and thought leader in STEM. Lifetime learner. Aspiring product manager for innovative digital health solutions.

The Startup

Get smarter at building your thing. Follow to join The Startup’s +8 million monthly readers & +799K followers.

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