“Teamwork makes the dream work”
“There is no ‘I’ in ‘team’.
“None of us is as smart as all of us.”
How many times have you seen or heard these phrases? And do they make your heart sing or sink?
The French have their own phrase for team work; ‘esprit de corps’. This phrase combines the concepts of unity and a shared vision which two or more people feel when they are actively working towards a common goal. In an ideal world, the team is bigger than the sum of its parts and has a synergy and momentum that moves it along. Together, we are told, the team can jump over any metaphorical obstacles in its path.
Given this, it is not hard to see why, over the last two decades, UK management practise has leaned heavily towards promoting teamwork. The team combines a sense of unity (‘we’re all in this together’), while simultaneously disciplining, motivating, and managing itself.
But what about the down side of teamwork?
Not everybody loves teamwork, and some of the more common grumbles include the following:
This is the big one! You can only usually have one leader in a group, and if two or more people are locking horns for this role then it can affect overall team morale and incur everyone walking on eggshells trying not to upset the more dominant characters. David Mamet’s famous play, “Glengarry Glen Ross” , takes a witty look at this aspect of sales teams who are often made up of larger than life, go-getting type personalities.
In any team there is usually one person who produces less tangible work than the others. This may not in fact be a problem if the person in question is contributing in another way (see below). But it can sometimes annoy other team members who do not immediately see this person’s value, and feel that they are just not pulling their weight.
In a team situation where everyone has a voice, it can be difficult to get quick decisions. As everyone should have an equal say this can be time-consuming and potentially difficult if one or two people are unhappy with what the others are proposing. This can lead to frustration and fatigue with people feeling that ‘it’s just the same old people who can never agree’ who are stopping things from moving forward.
So, why do we need a leader again?
Following on from dogged democracy, it sometimes happens that team members do not agree with their leader and challenge their authority or decisions. This can be unsettling and lead to a situation where no one has a clear idea of what the team’s vision is, or who is in charge.
The Psychology of Teams
So how to we avoid these situations? If you’re a manager looking to create the ultimate ‘dream team’, what should you start looking for?
The first step is realise that, ultimately, everyone is different and we all have different skills and personalities. Not everyone loves collaborating and some people really do work best when they’re left alone to get one with things! This doesn’t mean that they can’t bring something to a team dynamic – just that you need to factor in their work style to get the best out of them. Ideally, a manager should be looking for a combination of the following personality types to make a good team:
This type of personality is typical of successful managers. They are usually able to take a project from start to end focussing on the bigger picture. Ideally they can bring together other teams or personnel and inspire them with their overall vision. They are usually quite ‘big’ personalities, and good motivators (as above, they are common in sales type environments). On the negative side, they tend to be quickly bored by small details and the day to day nitty-gritty of project management. This can lead to missed deadlines and the ball being dropped at crucial points, which can irritate the rest of the team.
Inventors are great for coming up with new ideas and strategies. They can often breathe life into a stale project, and ideally will work with the Leader to get things moving and keep a team energised and interested. Inventors need to be well-managed and occasionally asked to sit down and explain fully their ideas (including the small print!) from top to bottom. Without this discipline they have been known to throw projects completely off tangent or get sidetracked by something new once they have handed over their last idea.
The Technician is the opposite of the Leader as this type thrives on detail and minutiae. They can pick out knotty problems which means that, ideally, they are a good pairing with the Inventor as one can innovate and the other can spot the potential flaw in the detail. The Technician is clearly a good problem solver but perhaps less of a team player, and as such usually works well with a clear and well defined decision making remit giving them some autonomy. Sherlock Holmes may well have been a Technician type! On the negative side, they can be – sometimes unfairly – accused of being negative or just looking for problems, and this can lead to them feeling a little defensive. Lawyers, accountants, and HR types often perform this function in a large team setting.
Every team needs a player that can just get on with it. This team member is pleasant, solid and reliable, will usually work well by themselves, and is generally well-respected by the rest of the team. They are happy to take direction from others and will just get on with the job. Their role is not a glamorous one, and they can sometimes feel a bit put out at any perceived lack of recognition or gratitude. They are also sometimes in danger of becoming the pawn in any ego clash between two leader types who are challenging each other to give the Workhorse direction. As such, a clear line of command and communication is essential to get the best out of this type.
The Communicator is the glue who holds the team together. They may not be the most productive, or dynamic, or consistent of the group, but they are usually well-liked. Without at least one of these types the team can easily fall apart. The Communicator usually has great emotional intelligence and people skills. They really want everyone to work well together and will take it upon themselves to manage timetables, and work distribution so that everyone feels involved.
They are sometimes accused of not pulling their weight by Technician types who see Communicators chatting to colleagues, or organising birthday collections or Christmas parties. This is unfair as the value they bring is not always obvious until they go on holiday and the team suddenly starts bickering without their calming presence! (As an aside, one of the most famous Communicator types is probably Beatles drummer, Ringo Starr! While not the musical genius that the others were, he has been described as the peacemaker of the group who would stop the others arguing and walking out of the band.)
7 Strategies for Great Teambuilding
If you’re a manager trying to get the best out of your group, it may sound a little obvious, but think about who is already on your team. What are their personalities? Who do they already work well with?
Think about where the gaps are in your existing team. Do you have mostly Leaders, or mostly Communicators (this is sometimes the case in caring or teaching environments) who need a Technician and a Workhorse to help get the Leader’s vision to life.
Talk to your team. Where do they think the gaps are? On the day to day level they work with each other and may have more idea about the group dynamic than you do.
Be mindful of innate bias and perception towards the role rather than the team. In a sales, collections, or marketing focussed environment, there is often a bias towards very upbeat, dynamic, get-ahead type personalities, but a whole team of them probably won’t work. There can only be one or two at most Leaders.
Similarly, in a quieter more research based department, there is often a bias towards Technician and Workhorse types. That’s fine, until you need someone to step up and manage or lead a project. In this instance you may not necessarily need the best performing or technically adept team member, but rather someone who can unite the group and promote a shared vision.
Speak to your HR or Recruitment team. Do they perform any sort of personality testing, e.g. Myers Briggs? Or in a group interview situation, do they ask candidates to perform a group activity to give some insight into the different personality types. While it’s fair to surmise that in an interview situation, people are normally very mindful that they are being watched, group exercises can give you an idea as to who your potential Leaders and Communicators are. Work with your recruiters and explain what you are trying to do, and ask if they can help.
Ensure there is a clear line of command. This is particularly important for Workhorse and Communicator types (who may occasionally be sniped at by Technicians). It also helps prevent the team becoming bogged down with bickering and challenges to managerial decisions.
Look for balance. As a manager, who do you need to fill the gap and bring better cohesion to your team? The best teams have a balance of all of the personality types. Work on the basis that everyone has a role to play even if it’s not immediately obvious, and getting the personality blend right can make or break your team. To paraphrase Dale Carnegie, when dealing with people, you’re dealing with emotion rather than logic …
… and accordingly don’t get too hung up on labelling! While it’s useful to think in terms of personality types, humans are complicated creatures and we don’t often fit in neat little boxes. A good Leader type may also be a great empathetic Communicator. A Technician may be an incredibly creative Inventor! Trust your team and let them work together to find their own harmony and dynamic.
“What role do you play in your team? Do you love or hate teamwork? Do you recruit to fill the role, or more holistically with an end team in mind?”