By John Hackston
Do you work in a team? Most of us are part of one or more teams at work. Indeed, many workers would find it difficult or impossible to carry out their jobs without being a member of a team. In recent research by the careers site Zippia, more than 50% of workers in the United States said that their jobs were reliant on collaborating, and three-quarters rated teamwork and collaboration as being very important. But what factors relate to team performance, and how do these relate to the personality and development of individual team members? Earlier this year, my organization completed a research study to find some answers.
We surveyed 883 people, covering a wide range of job roles, job levels, and types of teams. We asked them about the characteristics and the performance of their team, about their team leader, and about themselves, including their personality type, as measured by the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator® (MBTI®) assessment. The results make interesting reading.
Job Satisfaction And Team Performance
The good news is that most participants showed a high degree of job satisfaction, were unlikely to be thinking of leaving their job, and thought that their team was performing well; 78% rated their team as better than average.
Job satisfaction isn’t just a “nice to have;” it shows a strong relationship with team performance, and any actions that enhance job satisfaction are likely to improve team performance and reduce turnover.
However, the minority who felt that their team was not performing well tended to have a low level of job satisfaction and were more likely to be thinking of leaving. Job satisfaction isn’t just a “nice to have;” it shows a strong relationship with team performance, and any actions that enhance job satisfaction are likely to improve team performance and reduce turnover.
Overall, then, teams were seen to be performing well, but there were some areas that were less positive. Some teams struggled to implement new ideas; team members did not always understand their strengths and weaknesses; some teams did not cope well with uncertainty and ambiguity; not all teams made decisions quickly. The full research report contains a checklist of questions that can be used to identify specific issues in a team.
The role of the team leader is often seen as pivotal, and the results of our research bore this out. While most participants scored the performance of their team leader very positively, a minority did not, and this group had a significantly lower level of job satisfaction. Also, when all participants were asked, “what is the worst thing about being in this team,” the most common response, from 13% of the group, was “poor leadership.”
This illustrates the importance of training and development for team leaders at all levels. “Feeling valued and supported” was the most common category of response to the question “what’s the best thing about being in this team”; again, this is something that the team leader can have a major influence on.
The research also illustrated the importance of the personality dynamics between team leader and team member. 194 participants knew, and were confident of, the MBTI type of their team leader. The results showed that overall, no one type was seen as a better or worse team leader, but that the interaction between the team leader’s type and the participant’s type did have an effect. Those whose own preferences for Extraversion or Introversion were different from how they perceived the team leader had significantly lower scores on almost all performance factors. This suggests that it is important for team leaders to first know their own personality type preferences, and secondly to be able to adapt their style to best fit the needs of team members. Where team leaders can adapt their style in terms of Extraversion – Introversion to match that of team members, the team may be seen to perform more effectively.
The Individual Type, Team Type Connection
People who are different from the average of the team feel less positive; yet these are typically very useful people to have in the team, more likely than others to have alternative viewpoints or different ideas, thereby making “groupthink” less likely.
We also asked participants a set of questions relating to the type characteristics of the team as a whole. We found that individuals whose individual type matched the team type on the MBTI dimensions of Sensing – Intuition¹ and Thinking – Feeling² felt that their team performed more effectively. Those whose type was entirely different from that of the team had, on average, the least positive view of the team’s performance. Those whose type matched the team type in terms of Sensing – Intuition and Judging – Perceiving³ had higher levels of job satisfaction.
On the face of it, these may seem to imply that more diverse teams perform less well – but this would run counter to other research into the performance of diverse teams. It is clear, however, that people who are different from the average of the team feel less positive; yet these are typically very useful people to have in the team, more likely than others to have alternative viewpoints or different ideas, thereby making “groupthink” less likely.
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This points up the importance of team members and especially team leaders being open to, and allowing time for, different points of view. One approach that teams who know their MBTI type often find useful is the “Z model.” Here, a team discuss an issue or problem having first come up with a set of questions relating to Sensing, a set relating to Intuition, a Thinking set, and a Feeling set. They then spend a strictly equal amount of time on each of these four preferences. This allows the less heard voices in the team to be paid attention to and facilitates new insights.
These interactions between the personality type of individuals and the perceived personality type of their teams show that team development programs must take into account both the personality of the individual but also the context and personality of the team in which they work. To some extent, the same applies to individual, personal development.
People do not work in a vacuum, but in organizations and, especially, in teams.
¹ People with a preference for Sensing take more notice of information that is solid, practical and based on the evidence of their senses, whereas those with a preference for Intuition focus instead on the big picture, possibilities and ideas.
² People with a preference for Thinking prefer to make decisions on the basis of objective logic, whereas those with a preference for Feeling prefer to make decisions based on how people will be affected and on how the outcome relates to their values.
³ People with a preference for Judging prefer to live and work in an organized, structured, planned way, whereas those with a preference for Perceiving prefer to live and work in a more spontaneous, emergent way.
John Hackston is a chartered psychologist and Head of Thought Leadership at The Myers-Briggs Company where he leads the company’s Oxford-based research team. He is a frequent commentator on the effects of personality type on work and life, and has authored numerous studies, published papers in peer-reviewed journals, presented at conferences for organizations such as The British Association for Psychological Type, and has written on various type-related subjects in top outlets such as Harvard Business Review.