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Team Building Starts with the Right Individuals

Everyone recognizes that teamwork is an essential ingredient for success in any organization. Whether the team performance involves manufacturing, services, administration, or some other function, effectively finding and reinforcing the optimal combination of people to meet performance goals is what separates winning and losing organizations. That is especially true today, when organizations are under pressure to do more with fewer people.

Building the Team
The organizational focus for effective talent management should be on the critical task of identifying high-quality team performers who can be trained and advanced to work together and accept greater responsibility. Personality testing is an effective tool to do just that. The testing focus should be on measuring and understanding the interaction between personality traits and job requirements, including the ability to productively work with or effectively lead others by accepting feedback, advancing teamwork efforts and demonstrating commitment. These kind of objective metrics take the guesswork out of team building.

Ideally, the process starts at the hiring stage, when personality assessment tools can help the employer hire a specific type of individual for a team assignment that requires particular traits, or to rule out someone with traits that are will lead to poor integration with a team. Personality assessment used as a recruitment and hiring tool demonstrates how job candidates will interact and communicate with other employees and clients in everyday workplace situations.

Effectively applied, it will strengthen an organization’s team dynamics. Teamwork thrives where people perform to their true potential in careers and positions that align with their interests and work styles. These are the people motivated to work together for optimal quality and service.

Structuring the Matrix
Once new hires are part of an organization they increasingly are assigned to matrix teams. The matrix concept has helped to break down the silos of traditional organizations by creating cross-functional teams that pursue shared objectives using shared resources. Such teams join together (physically or virtually) persons drawn from different disciplines to pursue a common objective, with members reassigned to new matrix teams when the objective is reached.

Building matrix teams to handle any task takes an affirmative effort to identify and enhance the best fit between personal skills, job responsibilities, and team leadership, so that all members can attain their productive potential. As in a chemical formula, it requires understanding of how all the elements of human factors interact and how those elements should be directed. This means that the diverse elements of a matrix team may require different types of leadership. If a matrix team is created to develop and bring a new product to market, what motivates the product researchers or technology professionals will be very different from what motivates the people who focus on sales and marketing. There is no “one size fits all” leadership solution.

Effective interaction at the matrix team level should focus on the relationships between leaders and their work teams, as well as the relationships between team members. Team members care about more than career development and compensation. They also want to have good relationships with peers, and to be respected and treated as individuals with unique needs and desires by the team leader or leaders.

The team is more likely to achieve its objective when team members are engaged with their jobs, their co-workers and leaders. Research has shown that 8 out of 10 highly engaged employees believe they can positively impact quality and performance, compared with only 3 out of 10 who profess to be disengaged. Engagement creates an effective matrix team.

The challenge to build engagement that encompasses employees, teams and supervisors is made easier by the use of personality assessment tools. The more an assessment measures, the more useful it is to predict workplace behavior and the greater insight it provides on how best to boost the performance of individuals and the teams of which they’re a part.

Test results allow assigning team members jobs that they are good at and passionate about, creating the core dynamic of engagement. Personality testing identifies and brings strengths, weaknesses, productive behaviors, and stress behaviors into focus, helping individuals understand how to accept and adapt to the roles that better integrate their core capabilities into a workplace team.

Implementing the Results
An excellent example of personality testing as a cross-disciplinary team-building tool can be seen in its use by the solid waste management department of one of America’s largest cities. Budget constraints and engagement concerns led department management to launch testing sessions in a variety of locations with maintenance, administrative and operations groups. Test explanations, dialogue and questions were customized for each group. Behavioral patterns developed from individual test results were used to create flow charts showing behavioral patterns by shift, by department, by level of responsibility. Feedback was used in individual coaching sessions to help employees better understand their team roles and improving team communication.

This translated to the bottom line. After two years, the department had saved millions of dollars in performance improvements without layoffs, in large measure due to an ownership approach to job functions and work team improvements facilitated by their assessment-based coaching sessions. Employees better understood the organization’s mission and their role in it. An employee productivity program that generated significant savings through suggestions to make jobs and processes more efficient while promoting quality, economy and safety typified the successful teambuilding effort.

Such results show that, by helping employees understand how they receive and process information and exercise responsibility, personality testing can help build better functioning teams, workgroups and departments. Assessment results provide the roadmap to understand individual and team motivations in ways that engage trust and enthusiasm. This enables the team dynamic to succeed and work well over time, every time.

About the Author(s)

Sharon Birkman Fink is president and CEO of Birkman International, Inc., developer of The Birkman Method® leadership and team development tool that reveals the underlying motivators that drive behavior and, when understood, improve workplace performance. She can be reached at 713-623-2760 or sfink@birkman.com.