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Putting together an effective team has been the holy grail of productivity gurus for years.

The received wisdom of team-building says that what’s important for a work group to form and function effectively as a team is to have the right mix of characters, skills and aptitudes. So far, so obvious, right?

Belief in this unproven idea has long fed a whole industry of personality-testers and analysers, and their products have been generally popular and well received. Psychologists armed with tests and belief in their models told us that the route to highly motivated and effective teamworking lay in understanding personality.

Their prescription were swallowed by a lot of people, and they were popular with employees as well as HR departments seeking the perfect, effective team.

But I have never bought it. Categorising people based on Jung’s psychological types, Eysenck’s personality profiles or Myers Briggs seemed to me to be like focusing on what’s under the bonnet of the car when you hadn’t learned to drive!

Effective Team? Google It

Research by Google’s HR people over two years was also based on the idea that the way to put together a stellar team was to find the perfect assembly of individual traits and skills. Get the mix right and you’d have your dream team, they thought. The idea has been so popular for so long that nobody questions it. But th Google people did and the final result surprised them. In their own words:

“We were dead wrong. Who is on a team matters less than how the team members interact, structure their work, and view their contributions. So much for that magical algorithm”.

They learned that there are five key dynamics separates successful teams from other teams at Google are:

  1. Psychological safety: Can we take risks on this team without feeling insecure or embarrassed?
  2. Dependability: Can we count on each other to do high quality work on time?
  3. Structure & clarity: Are goals, roles, and execution plans on our team clear?
  4. Meaning of work: Are we working on something that is personally important for each of us?
  5. Impact of work: Do we fundamentally believe that the work we’re doing matters?

Personality testing may have its place, but I’m not sure how it is expected to produce an effective team. Most team members suss each other out pretty quickly and they don’t need a psychological test to tell them which of their colleagues is an introvert, and extrovert or a psychopath. It may be nice to have their prejudices confirmed, but labelling people is divisive and no way to bring them together.

Read Google’s research here:

The five keys to a successful Google team

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