Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Team Diversity makes for better project outcomes

Have you ever wondered how a team works in spite of the diverse personalities?   We have all been in a team meeting where we find ourselves screaming (hopefully only on the inside) because of our frustration with a team member’s inability to comprehend a concept or with a team members disjointed ramblings off topic.  In my early years these situations truly bothered me and created a lot frustration but as I facilitated more and more meetings I finally realized that everyone is not like me!  And they don’t think like me either!

Diversity of personalities and thinking styles are critical to a great team and helps avoid group-think. As facilitators we need to embrace the differences and use those differences to an advantage, I like to categorize my team members into 5 personality types and I always try to get 4 out of the 5 types, read on and you can guess which type I try to avoid:

The “Thinker”: This is the person who does not talk much and is a good listener; they often come up with great solutions based on the various inputs from other team members. They can keep you out of trouble because they tend to be balanced in their approach and while they believe in stretch goals they also keep the tam from "over reaching". Always try to get a “thinker” on your team; they often have the respect of other team members and thus help you build credibility.

The “Emotion Train”: This person brings heavy emotion to the group and if left unchecked, they can be become a speeding freight train, destroying everything in their path.  However, if controlled, they can bring great value to the team.  While they often take “side trips”, can sometimes get “personal”, and often start off somewhat negative, they often provide a vivid unadulterated recollection of past mistakes and cultural norms.  If you listen closely you will learn about barriers to change, past failures, and also get a flavor for where certain key mangers stand on project efforts.  For logical folks like me it is sometimes frustrating to listen to “emotion trains” however they provide great information. They are a good personality type to have on the team but you have to make sure they do not become a distraction (AKA an out of control freight train), I often enlist the next personality type to help me in that endeavor.

The “Politician”:  This is the person who does not contribute a great deal of new ideas; instead they frequently repeat with others have said making sure that they understand what that person needs and where they are heading.  They are hesitant to offend anyone so they rarely come up with anything controversial or “out of the box” however they help bring a certain sense of clarity to the group and can often be helpful in smoothing any ruffled feathers when someone takes offense at a comment. Together with the “emotion train” personality they help you understand the culture of the organization. They are good communicators so make sure you enlist them to help garner support for team efforts.

The “Passive Resistor” This person is the toughest to deal with when you are a facilitator because they are impossible spot quickly.  They tend to agree with the direction of the team and avoid group disagreement; therefore you don’t always determine their nature until several meetings have gone by. As we all know once the “passive aggressive” member is out of the meeting they either ignore the action items or sabotage team efforts at improvement.  These are highly experienced “stone-wallers” so you rarely win by trying to deal with them head-on. They are essentially insecure so you may be able to uncover their insecurities and build their confidence but unfortunately this may take a long time. You need to be persistent in getting them onboard usually by providing them with minor tasks that you make seem very important but if that fails, you go to plan B; minimize their team involvement.

The “Workhorse”: This person is semi-interested in the dialog and creativity but their real talent lies in doing things.  Give them a task and they will get it done.  Because they don’t tend to quickly comprehend the bigger picture you need to be careful and patient in order to get them onboard with ideas and concepts but once they buy-in they will carry a lot of the workload and require no special “stroking” as they tend to have low ego levels however, they very much appreciate recognition within the group.

Sometimes dealing with many personalities can be frustrating however the frustration is worth every “tums” you chew because you always end up with better results when you work with a diverse team.

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