Building the perfect team is about more than just skills

29 Mar 2019 By Helen Brown

You need to build the right teams to spot and seize new growth opportunities. But, as Helen Brown argues, personality type is just as important as capability

There’s magic in a great team, not just because of the way they work together – it’s more than that. A great team creates its own kind of alchemy that pulls people together with a passion and delivers exponential growth. 

How to assemble that perfect team is often regarded as more luck than judgement, but that’s not the case. It’s a result of many years’ worth of experience by a leader who can spot the required combination of skills and attitude.

For examples, look to legendary Robert R Gilruth, director of the 1969 NASA lunar landing, and X-Men leader Professor Charles Xavier – who can argue with their ability to pull together a ‘super’ team? Science fiction aside, there’s a fair bit of scientific fact that can be used to enhance every team. 

Since 2012, Google has been studying why some teams perform better than others. Years of interview data has shown that the best-performing teams were defined not only by their technical capabilities but on the group’s level of emotional intelligence and communication skills.

Winning personalities

Our own research would support this theory and the best teams generally include a combination of five distinct behaviours:

  • Altruism. Those with a concern for the wider ecosystem and creating more opportunities for collaboration and knowledge sharing. This results in a ‘share and reapply’ mentality

  • Creative thinking. Focus on innovation, creating the new and different. Companies that have over-indexed in this dynamic include Uber and Airbnb

  • Adaption. Employees are able to assimilate and be comfortable with constant change at pace. This personality type has been key to the ‘fail fast and learn faster’ attitude

  • Pragmatism. Team members who are comfortable with detail and process, who can maintain focus during stressful situations

  • Results focused. Those who are organised and energetically focus the team on group success. These are the specialists who often become future leaders

Keeping a performing team engaged

While clarity of purpose and management of time can be delivered by any competent manager, fulfilling the emotional needs of the team requires the coach to be skilled at emotional intelligence. That’s because smart selection can quickly come undone without clear goals and constant course correction from a skilled leader. 

The work the team is undertaking and the way they are being led also needs to meet their emotional and intellectual needs. Teams that thrive are bound by the same mutual understanding and respect for the vision and values of the team. This shared connection requires the coach, or leader, to be intentional about a common goal, even when people have different values. 

Famously, Claudio Ranieri led Leicester City to win the 2016 Premier League against huge odds. While skilled in their own right, the team had been playing as a group of individuals. Ranieri found a way to bring them together: by inviting them all to his house for pizza. On the face of it, it was a simple gesture, but he was creating a culture of openness and illustrating that they were all equals playing for the same prize, as one team.

Teams that grow and thrive have three core components; individuals with relevant skills and a desire to continually hone them; collective attitudes that complement the team in most situations and consistent leadership that can both set the course and steer them unfailingly towards it.

Helen Brown is global chief people operations and performance officer at MediaCom

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