During our sessions, someone inevitably asks me what I think of personality assessments—the DISC, the Kolbe, the Myers-Briggs or another test designed to sort out and label personality attributes.
These tests, and the consultants who provide them, seek to ensure that current and future team members will get along. A lot of time, effort and money is spent on discovering if a prospective team member will “fit” and determining if a new member’s personality or behavior will be complementary to those already on the team.
Personality assessments and psychological tests have been around for years, and the three tests I list above are all very good. They provide valuable insights into personality traits and behavioral tendencies. However, I believe that the rationale for using these assessments is incorrect, as it is based on two assumptions—assumptions that I firmly disagree with:
- Harmony within a team is an important prerequisite to success
- Harmony is created by building a team of complementary personality styles.
If these two assumptions are true, then every team leader should invest in plenty of psychological testing. With the right personalities in place, he or she can sit back and watch the revenue roll in. Unfortunately, my experience working with high-functioning teams paints a very different picture of the relationship between success and team harmony.
Harmony and Success
When it comes to building a high-performance team, it’s easy to see interpersonal conflict as a bad thing and harmony as a good thing. It’s unpleasant to work on a team that fights much of the time, and it’s easy to believe that getting along is an important goal. Unfortunately, instead of actually being meaningful end states, both conflict and harmony are usually symptoms of deeper dynamics within a team.
When coaching teams, I’ve found that conflict almost always results from an underlying feeling of unfairness from one or more team members. When times are tough and the team isn’t succeeding, or when the rewards of success aren’t fairly or appropriately (though not necessarily equally) distributed, one or more team members may feel angry at the injustice, and conflicts occur. Diagnostically, it’s helpful to think of the lack of harmony—or the presence of conflict—as a symptom of a deeper issue of fairness within the team.
Harmony is created within teams that are financially successful and that distribute the rewards from success fairly across team members. In this case, to distribute fairly means that each member is rewarded based on the meaningful contribution he or she made to the team’s success. In this way harmony is evidence of a satisfying experience among team members and within the team as a whole, just as conflict is a symptom of unfairness. In a sense, humans evolved to cooperate; being part of a community comes naturally to most healthy adults. Disharmony usually means something is structurally wrong within the team.
A simple rule of thumb for teams can help: I believe that harmony doesn’t create success; rather, success tends to create harmony. By all means, learn as much as you can about each team member’s personality style and behavioral preferences—but never assume that harmony will lead to success.
An (Overused) Sports Metaphor
Are professional football players selected on the basis of how well their personalities complement one another on the field? Of course not; players are selected for their skills, personal motivation and drive. The coach is interested in how each particular player can contribute to the success of the team as a whole. He knows that rewarding each person for the team’s success encourages individual players to appreciate the contributions of others.
Rather than trying to create harmony, the football coach’s job is to find talented people who have the right skills and motivation to fill a spot within his team. Personality styles have virtually nothing to do with the choice of players—nor should they. The quarterback doesn’t care if the wide receiver is an introvert or an extrovert; he just cares that the receiver can catch the ball. The running back doesn’t care whether the lineman is a high “D” or low “C”; he just cares that the block gets thrown in the right place at the right time.