There is much good research on the characteristics of high-performing teams. It is possible to structure teams in ways that maximize performance (e.g. small number, shared vision, complimentary skill sets). A great resource for this is
Katzenbach and Smith’s The Wisdom of Teams.
I have been on teams that are identical in these criteria, and yet there is an invisible factor that seems to drive performance– chemistry.
When I was in my early twenties, I played Sergeant Sarah Brown in a Community Theater production of Guys and Dolls. Young Sarah is a spunky Salvation Army worker with a logical list of characteristics she is looking for in a man. Sarah meets Sky Masterson, an attractive con artist and gambler, who laughs at her long list of desired traits and gives her his one-factor list, “chemistry.” Well, of course it’s a musical, chemistry wins, they fall in love and sing happily ever after.
The thing is, in both love and teams chemistry matters.
And yet, when we make hiring decisions, we often start with a list of desired competencies, backgrounds and skill sets at an individual level. Like Sarah, we work to attract the best talent for the individual roles, and then after the fact, work to pull them into a high performing team. Chemistry is even more vital when looking to select the leader of the team.
I am not suggesting hiring based exclusively on DiSC, MBTI or some other personality profile. However, all other things being equal, hiring for diverse backgrounds, experiences, skills and approaches can help to create some serious positive combustion.
I recently went through a DiSC workshop with my larger team. After the session, one of the women on my team came up to me and asked, “Did you do that on purpose?” She was referring to the very eclectic mix of personalities on both my direct report team and throughout the organization.
At first, my reaction was “no, I hadn’t even thought about DiSC.” But the truth is, having had a unique opportunity to build the team almost entirely from scratch, I had been very deliberate about hiring leaders with different backgrounds, experiences, expertise and styles. They in turn did the same. As a result, we have a team that works hard to leverage one another’s strengths and make up for gaps. They have each other’s backs. They have chemistry and results on are on fire.
Opportunities to Build Team Diversity
In addition to the more traditional views on diversity (race, age, gender), there are other important factors to consider when hiring for a high-performing team
- Expertise, attracting unique skill sets helps to foster respect, creates interdependency and enables cross-training
- Background, hiring people with diverse experiences helps to provide different perspectives to complex problems
- Styles, not always comfortable, but hiring a team with different personality preferences can offer richer approaches and solutions
- ??? what other factors do you find important?
Where Similarities can Help
I also find there are some characteristics were similarities are quite helpful. I find having a team unified by these factors helps them to work more effectively with their diversity.
- Passion: I see teams come together best when they all share a common passion for a unified vision. They all care deeply about accomplishing something important. I look for passion from the moment they enter the job interview.
- Gumption: This manifests itself in various ways in different people and personalities. But energetic commitment and strong work ethic matter. High-performing teams seem to operate on a similar gumption frequency.
- Receptivity: Openness to feedback and change. High-performing teams have members who are able to adjust and learn from one another and the environment. They are hungry for feedback and willing to share.
Think about the teams that you have worked on with the best chemistry.