Part of any successful start-up or any company for that matter, is understanding teams. After all, your staff, your employees, your co-workers, all comprise a team. In the case of a company, it is a team that is (or should be) focused on the advancement and success of the company.
Note: This article is written as if speaking to a business owner. The information is still relevant for any manager within the company, or a person curious about understanding team dynamics.
There are two components to the discussion of teams. In actuality, there are many more, but for the purposes of this article, we will list two basic components:
- Understanding the Team (and the individuals on the team);
- Building the Team (for continued success).
For this article, we are going to discuss the first topic…
Understanding the Team (and the individuals on the team)
While there are team dynamics that could be defined for every team, at the very core, a team is comprised of individuals. It helps if you understand these individuals so that you understand how to motivate them to do what you need done for the company, but also so that you can avoid potential pitfalls. Those pitfalls, at best, delay work that needs to be done, and at worst can cause even more damage to a company. Neither of these outcomes is desirable.
There are many different ways to understand your employees. There are also many different methods. These range from the geeky psychological assessments that we use in I/O Psychology to simple observation skills that any person may use. Obviously, the success rate in understanding your employees varies, depending on your experience and knowledge. The good news is that with some practice, most people can improve their skills at understanding people. If you find that this is too difficult, a couple of options would be to:
- Hire a capable person for your human resources department or role;
- Hire a contractor (i.e. I/O Psychology Consultant) who can come in and assess your company.
Basic Assessments You Can Do Yourself
Here are a couple of different things you can identify, for yourself, with your basic observation skills.
Introvert vs. Extravert
Before we begin this discussion, the very spelling of “extravert” is interesting. The most common spelling is actually “extrovert,” however, there are many reasons to see that “extravert” may be the correct spelling. For those who are interested, there is an article on it here. Regardless of which one is correct, we will use “extravert” in this article, but please feel free to spell it as “extrovert,” if that is more comfortable for you.
It is very tempting to assess someone as an introvert when they seem shy or do not talk very much. While that is very likely to be true, it does not go deep enough to identify what type of person your team member is.
An introvert is someone who gains energy from doing things or examining things on his or her own. This type of employee may not seem as engaged in a team project, but will likely “come alive” when offered an opportunity to work on something alone. Usually, an introverted person prefers an environment that he or she finds comfortable, non-distracting, and non-threatening.
An extravert comes alive with other people. There are also different types of extraverts. For example, I am the type of extravert who really comes alive with more people. I am more comfortable on a stage with 50,000 people in the audience (can you tell I am a musician – Jazz singer?) than a smaller group of four or five. Either way, extraverts get their energy from that social aspect and working with other people, performing in front of people, or even just socializing in a group of people.
Why does the understanding of introversion and extraversion help my business?
The reason that this matters is to understand the dynamics of how people interact with each other within your company.
So, here is an example: If Inga Introvert is working with Edna Extravert, along with three other people, on a team project, you may find Inga not as productive as she is when she works on individual projects. It may be that other team members complain that she is too quiet and non-participating. What is really happening is that Inga may not be at her best in the group environment, and you will see a different outcome when she works alone.
The converse may also be true. Edna Extravert may really shine when she is put in charge of that team project and may appear to be “on fire” for the company. Then, when you assign her an individual project, you may find that she is more easily distracted, and her results are not quite the same. Realizing that Edna gets her energy from working with other people will help you to understand this outcome.
Understanding your team members in this way will help you, as the owner of your company, or the boss, to identify where Inga and Edna could be the most successful. This applies to all the team members and understanding what energizes them and helps them to feel fulfilled and successful.
In actuality, many people (if not all) are a bit of a combination of extraversion and introversion. At least, that is the current thinking. So, the description of Inga and Edna, above, is an extreme. You wouldn’t want to expect that this is exactly how these personality traits will present themselves, but it gives you an idea, even as an example in the extreme. Also, on another cautionary note, be sure that while you are observing and assessing your team, that you are not representing yourself as some sort of psychology expert that is analyzing them. This is likely to make them feel uncomfortable and the results will not necessarily be valid anymore.
To read more about Introversion and Extraversion (and Ambiversion), check out this article on Wikipedia. There is an interesting quiz here. While the quiz would not necessarily be an absolute diagnosis, it does tend to help to point people in the right direction (and a little fun, too).
Strong Personalities, Personality Issues
This topic is a bit more broad, and it does help to have a little psychology understanding under your belt. It isn’t impossible, but it may have a learning curve. That is where a well-trained human resources person may actually have the experience to help you fill that gap.
All of us have personality traits. Some of our traits are better suited to us and to the teams where we participate, than others. Also, the combination of our traits, with the traits of the other team members, creates interesting results. It is similar to taking chemicals and combining them all together. It is helpful if you have studied chemistry enough to not combine ingredients that may cause an explosion.
Let’s take bipolar disorder as an example. While it is not likely a requirement that someone disclose to you that they have bipolar disorder, let’s pretend that your employee confides in you. The first hope is that the person is on medication that makes it somewhat of a non-issue. However, even if that person is not on medication, if you understand the challenges that they face, it can help you to adjust your expectations and possibly your strategy accordingly. With a bipolar person, there are swings between a depressive state and a manic, “super happy” state. By definition, these swings are 14 days or more. During the manic state, your employee may be super-productive and very effective in helping your company succeed. During the depressive state, this employee will seem like a different person. How you work this out within your business is up to you, but understanding the person goes a long way in providing you with the information you need, to make an informed decision on strategy.
There are also other areas, like narcissism (thinking very highly of oneself) and histrionic personality disorders (“drama queen”). Neither of these (or other disorders) is a reason NOT to have a person on your team, but again, the more you understand, the more you can help your team to be more cohesive and effective in your business. Fortunately, searching for these topics on the internet may provide helpful information so that you do not have to spend money on a specialist right away. It is still recommended to hire an I/O Psychology Consultant, at some point, to help you with your team building strategy.
My best advice to you is not to become overwhelmed by all of this information. This article is only scratching the surface, but there is no reason that you have to become a master at all of this in one day. As with life, it is a growing process, and we have the opportunity to learn and grow each day. So, take it in a lighthearted manner and apply it where it needs to be applied. The more that you understand concepts like team building (and understanding your team) the more effective you will become as a leader and business owner.