Why personality is important in team-building

3 minute read


Putting together teams that function well — and consistently achieve the goals set by their leaders — can seem like an impossible art form. But having knowledge about what makes teams effective is a huge first step towards getting it right.

One of those key factors is personality. The mental and behavioural makeup of your team's members plays a pivotal role in whether they'll get along and get work done. Ignoring personality in favour of skill is a setup for failure.

In a Harvard Business Review article by Dave Winsborough and Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic, entitled ‘Great teams are about personalities, not just skills’, we learn how essential it is to consider the personalities of team players and how they meld together before putting them in a room to collaborate on serious goals.

Below, we explore Dave and Tomas’ conclusions on why personality matters for any kind of team.


What, exactly, is personality?

The modern, scientific understanding is that there are two facets to personality, namely identity, or the person we think we are, and reputation, or the kind of person others consider us to be.

Our identity consists of personal ideals, dreams, goals, fears, and everything else that makes up our self-perception. Reputation is more about our outward behaviour, which is what other people see, interpret, and learn how to interact with.

When it comes to selecting talent for teams, reputations matter more. Self-concept doesn’t meaningfully predict a fit with organisational cultures or teams, but reputation is a robust tool for forecasting behaviour and work success.


Why personality is just as important as skill

As Dave and Tomas suggest, personality is what determines team roles, communication styles, and the amount of cohesion that’s possible around core values.

Not that skill doesn’t matter at all. The job that team members do can only be done by those with the right technical abilities. But regardless of shared skills, team success hangs on the personalities involved, as well as the proportions of shared personality traits.
Sports teams comprised of highly-capable athletes, for instance, are more likely to have a poor season where there’s little psychological harmony.

Dave and Tomas also cite the example of studies performed with astronauts, which simulated the cramped conditions of outer space missions. The astronauts lived in close quarters for months at a time, and in the end, two conclusions were drawn:

  1. Low neuroticism (the tendency to experience bad moods) and high agreeableness helped the group stick together and collaborate well, and

  2. Small cliques began to form around shared personal values. 

These facts build up to an important truth. Each person on a team has two roles, a functional one and a psychological one. The functional role is concerned with the daily work that the person produces. But the psychological role is the ‘human element’, or the personality-driven behaviours a person brings to the table.

And, the balance of psychological roles can determine whether the team will thrive as a healthy living thing all on its own, or develop unhealthy patterns and fall apart.

Dave and Tomas highlight five distinct psychological roles: results-oriented, relationship-focused, process- and rule-followers, innovators, and pragmatists. Too many of one type on a team and not enough of the others can lead to failure for everyone.

For example, an abundance of results-oriented people will get the work done, but will lack the communication skills needed for negotiating with leaders and holding everyone together. Similarly, too many relationship-focused colleagues might build a friendly coalition, but fall short when it comes to accomplishing tasks and being a competitive team.

All in all, this means one thing: the combination of personalities is a big influence on team effectiveness. Talented employees might be superstars when it comes to personal work abilities… but it's the unique mingling of attitudes, traits and temperaments that can cause the most talent-filled team to either win or lose.

Your teams can be more successful, more of the time. With the right mix of both functional skills and personalities, you can ensure that all the essential roles are covered, and your employees are poised to collaborate well towards a satisfying result.

Ready to shore up your workplace teams? We have a tool for you that can help unveil your team’s biggest opportunities for improvement. Click here to check out and download the Team Assessment Survey (TAS 3.0).