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.
Closer to home, the portfolio manager doesn’t care if the marketing specialist is a “thinking” or “feeling” type; he just cares that new, prospective clients are showing up every month. Success creates a lot of goodwill within any team.
Complementary personalities and harmony among team members aren’t the keys to success that many team architects assume. Instead, if team leaders focus on the essential behaviors that lead to success, harmony and rewards will increase, causing conflicts to decrease. There are four core elements of executing for success:
1. Develop an effective business plan that clearly defines the vision of the business and every team member’s role as it pertains to fulfilling the vision.
A meaningful business plan is a “living document” that informs the day-to-day activities of the team. When used effectively, the business plan actually takes a seat at the table in team meetings, and is used by the team leader to clarify expectations for every member of the team (including the leader). One of its roles is to define the big picture of what the business is working to achieve.
2. Define the most effective methods for completing the tasks of each role.
The business plan should also define the methods for achieving the business’ vision: how to do the job. There are good ways, bad ways and excellent ways to accomplish tasks. A successful team will seek out and execute the best ways available to accomplish various tasks even if this means that team members must learn new skills.
3. Establish performance goals for every role.
In order to ensure that all team members, including the leader, are accountable to the plan, every role should have a set of performance goals that define the difference among unacceptable, good and excellent levels of performance. Typically, advisory practices make the mistake of establishing only destination goals: metrics that tell you “how much we want to accomplish” by a certain point of time. For example, a destination goal could be, “We want to bring in five new families with average assets under management of $3 million by the end of the year.”
Instead, performance goals must also be established. Performance goals describe the number of actions that must be taken during a period of time to achieve various desired outcomes. A performance goal would be, “Our marketing role is expected to meet with an average of five CPAs per week and explain our current muni-bond strategy.”
4. Track and report to the entire team how each member is fulfilling his or her performance goals.
In order to maintain fairness, each team member must know if all the other members are achieving their performance goals. The effective team leader not only tracks the progress toward achieving destination goals, but also tracks each team member’s performance against personal performance goals. The results are reported to the entire team.
Executing the four strategies outlined above will help a team become more successful—regardless of the industry. One of the results of this successful team will be harmony. The effective team leader understands this interaction and recognizes that one of his or her most important tasks is to ensure that each team member uses the most effective methods possible and is performing at the expected level. Nothing creates goodwill among team members like success and accelerating rewards.
Ken Haman is the Managing Director at the AllianceBernstein Advisor Institute, visit http://ria.alliancebernstein.com.