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People make a team

The simplest and most common way of describing a person is to identify patterns of behaviour and to label them with trait names (introverted, happy, moody, helpful etc). But who states what constitutes a trait? Whose definition is ‘happy’ or ‘helpful’? There are some who may say that this process of categorising people is simply a case of naming but not explaining! A mood can be characteristic of a person over time and friendliness can be a temporary disposition instead of an enduring trait.

We tend to try to fit people into categories according to our cultural norms and our own ideas but are our perceptions and consequent categorisations really about the other person or are they centred round our own personal schemas?

As Anaïs Nin famously said:

We don’t see the world as it is, we see it as we are

Teams only succeed through people

This is important – not numbers, not equipment but people. The way you recruit and then treat your people is paramount to your long-term sustained success or failure as a high performing team.

The first question that you need to ask is, ‘who do you need in the team to achieve the purpose?’ Getting the right people in place and bought into the purpose before any kind of delivery takes place is essential.

You may have some of the right people in the organisation already, but you may also need to recruit others in. But, do not simply look for skills – think about who you want and need in the team at a human level.

To paraphrase a saying that I believe was initially coined by First Direct back in the early 90s ‘Recruit for attitude, train for skill’. After all, you and all the other team members need to get on in various (sometimes stressful) situations and you need to get on at more than just a surface level. In your team you can have the best widget twiddler/accountant/engineer (add your own here) ever but if their personality and behaviours don’t fit with the team then there will be problems down the line.

Understanding self and others’ strengths and allowable weaknesses, through open awareness is a hallmark of a high performing team. Increasingly today’s teams operate in more matrix and dotted line environments. Through restructure and changes in management, plus the emergence for the need for ad-hoc teams to be put together quickly during a crisis, teams might be unfamiliar with each other and need to get to the point much quicker than used to be the case to deliver results. This is why personality profiling tools such as Facet 5, Belbin, Lifo®, Insights, Spectrum, DiSC and Myers Briggs (there are many more) offer such valuable insights. They can accelerate the path toward common understanding and ensure people play to their strengths and those of others in the team.

However, the term personality can be a difficult idea to pin down. What is it? Is personality a culturally led behaviour or is it a biological, and therefore innate, psychological process that is fixed? Studies have shown that it is a mixture of many different processes that overlap to form the basis of personality.

The study of personality started in three separate but related strands; clinical, psychometric, and experimental psychology. The aim was to highlight individual differences in behaviour. Interestingly most theories emerged from clinical practice – from a ‘real world’ setting involving people’s emotions and feelings but the need for quantitative scientific answers brought about the use of psychometric testing which became widely used to infer the social norm that one and all are compelled to work from. Scales of individual difference were created to satisfy the lust for quantitative measurements.

Sound familiar? Numbers over feelings and coal-face realities? Categorising into personality trait and type groupings is also highly subjective - people have different frameworks of meaning, and therefore always leaves the topic open to much debate.

Personality trait/type theories do receive considerable backing however because they are used so commonly in everyday life and therefore have some utility and credibility. And as an aside probably because of the obsession within scientific circles for the need to categorise and label everything into quantifiable figures to give ‘real’ answers. This is not to say that traits do not exist of course but merely that they are not as confined or fixed as some believe. Many psychologists have argued that traits are not consistent but that they are situation-specific and fluid.

Humans still tend to attribute the cause of other people’s behaviour more to personal characteristics and less to the situation. (This is a western cultural idea and is not as prominent in non-western cultures). It is not the case that people alone are responsible for their behaviours and you should bear this in mind when tackling personality, behaviour, and individual difference within your team.

It may be worth forgetting the complexity and ambiguity of the science and simply considering that any psychometric tool is simply a conversation starter – it allows individuals and teams to have safe conversations about how and why they operate the way that they do. Perhaps use them in parallel with the earlier team talk exercise.

Let's simplify the complex with some useful questions

It is a combination of many things that make a culture (environment, history, processes, policies, structure). People are the most important and influential aspect of a culture so with that in mind, here are some useful questions to ask regarding people:

1.  How will the team need to be set up to best deliver the purpose? What does that structure look like? Remember that too many levels equate to confusion and too many mixed agendas.

2.    What are the roles and responsibilities? What do you need each person to be accountable for?

3.    What skills, traits, attributes do you already have that you may just need to juggle around?

4.    Do you really know who you are, how you like to operate in a team and how you come across to others?

5.    What does each person need to be operating at their best? (Not just physical things like laptops/tablets, desks etc., but also consider the wider psychological things that people need – time and support for families, hobbies development opportunities etc.) What motivates them (and you)?

6.    Which psychometric profiling tool(s) might help us?


The above is an extract from my book Team Foundations, which is now available via this link: TELL ME MORE

In the book my friends at EvaluationStore.com who own the global behavioural profiling tool ‘Spectrum’ are offering a free of charge Spectrum evaluation to every reader of Team Foundations. More info in the book.

Book cover for hubspot


About the author

Dave Dayman

Dave Dayman

I'm passionate about leadership. I believe that thinking is not only the most powerful tool that we own but is also the one thing we have total control over. Sometimes we just need a little help to change the way we in which we choose to think!