Team-based Personality Assessments
The application of personality questionnaires in team building has a long and rich history, pioneered predominantly by Meredith Belbin in the 1960-1980s. Belbin introduced the Belbin Team Role Inventory which formalised the use of personality questionnaires when building teams, providing a valuable launchpad for further study.
Team-based personality assessments focus on two main objectives:
- Minimise intra-team conflict and ensure the smooth working of individuals
- Maximise team performance by placing people into teams appropriately.
By identifying each team member’s individual team role, managers are able to assign individuals with complimentary interpersonal styles, helping to minimise conflict and maximise productivity.
Belbin posited that nine key team role architypes exist, each expressing a unique interpersonal style when working within a team, which include:
- Plant: Creative and unorthodox thinkers who find innovative solutions to complex problems.
- Resource investigator: Enthusiastic networkers that focus on the external world.
- Co-ordinator: Big-picture thinkers who are likely to take a leading role in managing the team.
- Shaper: Industrious and task-focused individuals who strive for success.
- Monitor Evaluator: Logical and objective observers who solve problems analytically.
- Teamworker: Cooperative and diplomatic listeners who help manage conflicts.
- Implementer: Disciplined and loyal individuals who can always be relied upon.
- Completer finisher: Perfectionists with a strong eye for detail.
- Specialist: Experts in particular fields who provide uniquely valuable insight.
Type vs. Traits
However, unlike TYPE-based personality questionnaires such as the MBTI, the Team Roles Inventory is a TRAIT-based assessment, and thus does not hold these roles to be mutual exclusive personality types. For example, individuals could score highly on several of the roles, such as Plant AND Specialist, and thus display a more nuanced approach to their teamworking. This is because the Team Roles Inventory assessment measures underlying behavioral characteristics which exist on a continuum, much like the Big Five model of personality.
As a result, any valid and reliable personality questionnaire is capable of measuring those key underlying behaviors which determine a person’s team role.
In this article I will outline three highly effective approaches to implementing personality questionnaires in team building. These approaches can be followed using almost any psychometrically robust personality assessment, not just those explicitly designed for team building purposes.
Approach 1: Seek a Range of Conflict Resolution Styles
Research clearly suggests that a person’s conflict resolution strategy is closely aligned to their personality. For example, here is list of very personality traits and the corresponding conflict resolution styles that those traits will prefer.
- Agreeableness: Agreeable people tend to prefer either finding creative solutions to conflicts that appeal to everyone, or to avoid conflict all together. They also show a lower preference for dominating, and will not try to overpower others during conflict.
- Conscientiousness: Conscientious people tend to also prefer finding mutually beneficial solutions, but show a preference against avoidance, preferring to tackle conflict directly.
- Extraversion: Extraverts prefer a dominant approach to conflict, seeking to exert their influence and resolve conflict through sheer will. They are the least likely to follow an avoidant strategy, rarely shying away from conflict.
- Openness to experience: Those who are open to experience are the most likely to follow an integrated approach to conflict resolution, finding particularly innovative solutions to problems. They are also less likely to show an avoidant strategy, seeing conflict as a puzzle to solve instead.
- Neuroticism: Those who are particularly neurotic will focus mostly on avoidant strategies, shying away from conflict whenever possible. They are very unlikely to display a dominant strategy, finding that form of conflict resolution stressful.
Much like rock-paper-scissors, each conflict style can be beaten by another, helping to quickly resolve conflict.
For example, a dominating strategy quickly overpowers an avoidant strategy, resolving conflict fast. An avoidant strategy combined with an integrated strategy also quickly resolves conflict, as a consensus is reached quickly. However, a whole team of dominators is likely to result in a long, protracted conflict, as team members will simply try to overpower each other in perpetuity. Similarly, a whole team of avoidants will simply ruminate on their grievances, creating an underlying culture of resentment and bitterness.
Clearly, building a team with a wide range of conflict management styles is the best approach, ensuring that different strategies can be applied when the need arises, and preventing a conflict deadlock which occurs when every team member adopts the same conflict resolution style.
By measuring the personality traits of constituent team members, you can ensure that teams aren’t overrepresented by any specific personality trait, maximising the probability of the team utilizing a wider range of conflict management strategies.
Approach 2: Match Team roles to the Organizational Culture
Organizational culture is a powerful thing, and misfit to that culture can feel extremely uncomfortable for new hires. Research suggests that organizational culture misfit is a leading cause of employee attrition, resulting in tremendous costs for organizations worldwide.
The Four Architypes
Although organizational cultures are complex, they can broadly be classified into one of four architypes:
- Clan: Clan-based cultures are close-knit and family-like, emphasising shared values and organizational citizenship.
- Hierarchy: Hierarchy-based cultures focus on authority, productivity, processes, and systems, following a top-down approach.
- Adhocracy: Adhocracies are flexible and responsive, emphasising creativity and personal freedom.
- Market: Market-orientated cultures are externally focused, with greater emphasis on clients and stakeholders than internal staff.
Similarly, team roles can be classified into one of two thinking styles, namely Adaptive or Innovative. Research suggests that Adaptive thinkers, who are focused on reliability, efficiency, and discipline, are likely to prefer Clan or Hierarchy based cultures, and will show greater levels of person-team fit. In the same way, those with an Innovative thinking style, who are focused on creativity and unorthodox approaches to problem solving, tend to prefer Adhocracies or Market focused cultures.
By prioritising broad thinking styles during the hiring process, you ensure that the composition of teams moving forward is well suited to the organization itself. This approach is much safer than hiring based on team role explicitly, as a wide range of roles is desirable for optimal team composition.
For example, in organizations which are Hierarchical or Clan focused, looking for employees who are conscientious are likely to emphasise culture-fit, and thus subsequent team-fit. However, in organizations which are Adhocracy or Market focused, looking for employees who are open to new experiences will likely ensure that they will follow the company ethos of flexibility and creativity.
Approach 3: Avoid Organizational Cloning and Protect Behavioral Diversity
One of the more common criticisms of commercial personality questionnaires is the threat of organizational cloning, i.e., building an organization of nearly identical personalities. Naturally, this would stifle innovation, and as we have previously mentioned, exasperate conflict within teams. In fact, research does suggest that teams with a wider range of team roles tend to outperform less behaviorally diverse teams.
To avoid organizational cloning and ensure proper behavioral diversity, a wide range of distinct personality types must be onboarded into the organization, and by extension, into teams. This is achieved by using personality questionnaires throughout the employee life-cycle, from initial hire to ongoing development. Having these data allow HR teams to ensure that a wide range of team roles are represented organization-wide, rather than a just narrow subset.
Outside of cognitive ability testing, when using personality questionnaires as part of hiring processes, careful consideration should be given to the specific traits which will comprise a final score.
For example, if you decide that employees being ‘agreeable’ isn’t that relevant to in-role performance or culture-fit, then it should not form the basis of any selection decision. What this does is that any subsequent team will necessarily include people who score high, low, and everything in between on agreeableness – thus supporting behavioral diversity. However, if agreeableness is deemed essential to performance and role-fit, then organizations must decide whether the trade-off is worth it, and whether or not the loss of behavioral diversity outweighs the benefits to candidate quality or role-fit.
To maximise the effectiveness of a personality-based team building intervention, you need to be both general and specific. Although you want a wide range of different team roles and / or personality types on your team, you also want them all to have something in common, and that should ideally be overall culture-fit. But other than culture-fit, when hiring and creating teams, variety truly is the spice of life, and the greater the behavioral diversity, the greater the performance and the lower the incidence of harmful conflict.
In conclusion, organizations should embrace the differences between individuals, and aspire to create teams of unique individuals, rather than mere carbon copies of one-another.