If you’re a fan of team sports, you know how varied the styles of even great players can be: flashy or modest, balletic or bulldozing, comfortable in a supporting role or always seeking the limelight. If these disparate types are playing together successfully, there’s likely a balance of types on the team, and a coach wise to the ways of bringing the best from individuals within a group.
The same applies to business teams, and now, researchers Suzanne M. Johnson Vickberg and Kim Christfort have taken a deep dive into the science behind bringing out the best in a team. The researchers used brain chemistry and molecular biology research as background to create an assessment of business-relevant traits and preferences of individuals at work. The assessment has been completed by more than 190,000 people. Through this work, as they reported in the March-April 2017 issue of the Harvard Business Review, they were able to identify the four primary styles we all draw on at work, with most of us likely to be aligned with one or two of those styles in our behavior and thinking. Most crucially, they identified ways to help these individual styles work together to create the most powerful teams.
The Four Styles
Pioneers “value possibilities, and they spark energy and imagination on their teams. They believe risks are worth taking and that it’s fine to go with your gut. Their focus is big-picture. They’re drawn to bold new ideas and creative approaches.”
Guardians “value stability, and they bring order and rigor. They’re pragmatic, and they hesitate to embrace risk. Data and facts are baseline requirements for them, and details matter. Guardians think it makes sense to learn from the past.”
Drivers “value challenge and generate momentum. Getting results and winning count most. Drivers tend to view issues as black-and-white and tackle problems head on, armed with logic and data.”
Integrators “value connection and draw teams together. Relationships and responsibility to the group are paramount. Integrators tend to believe that most things are relative. They’re diplomatic and focused on gaining consensus.”
You’d suspect that teams with a diversity of cognitive strengths should be reaping the benefits. Sometimes, they are. But as you might also suspect, (or have experienced), without careful leadership, including an acknowledgement of and attention to the profound differences between team members, teams of individuals with sometimes opposite styles can experience crippling strife. This can lead to weak performance in even the most talent-rich teams, while great ideas slip through the cracks.
I see this regularly in my work. It’s normal, and it can be overcome.
The authors offer some great lessons for leaders as they work to strengthen struggling teams.
A few of my favorite takeaways:
- Recognize the profound differences between team members.
- Work on pulling opposites together. The authors call Guardians and Pioneers and Integrators and Drivers true opposites. These types may struggle to work together, but can also balance out each other’s strengths if they can learn to acknowledge their differences.
- Find ways to elevate the perspectives of team members who don’t have a strong voice on the team.
To learn more about how to accomplish these goals, and to figure out the primary style of individuals on your team, read the researchers’ insightful story The Science of Team Chemistry, at HBR.