As a leader responsible for driving performance and results in your organization, many variables are simply outside of your control. Obstacles to success like shoestring budgets, limited timelines, and any number of unexpected challenges are often unavoidable. But one thing you can manage is team chemistry. Part science and part artistic undertaking, this powerful leadership skill is essential to powering teams to their most peak performance.
Every individual brings their own set of unique traits, skills, strengths, and weaknesses to the table. The key to cultivating a team that runs on all cylinders is determining the specific personality types of your people, understanding how these types motivate or detract from one another, and identifying how they all best align.
While coaching top executives, we encourage virtually everyone to complete a basic, four-quadrant personality test, or a “DISC assessment.” These tests offer an eye-opening look at the hidden dynamics at play within organizations and can provide insights about a team’s composition. One person may exhibit multiple strengths, or perhaps several each have their own shining proficiencies. By understanding your team this way, you can begin to piece together the parts that work well together and rearrange the ones that don’t, overcoming limitations and achieving results quicker.
Whatever the makeup of your team, there are four personality types that we have determined must be present (and nurtured) to complete a team project successfully.
Just as our brain drives our body’s actions and movements, this team member drives others to take action in pursuit of an ultimate goal. Ambitious, assertive, competitive by nature, and hungry for results, The Brain is the personality type most often associated with traditional leadership roles. The Brain takes up the most space in the room and is probably the loudest voice. Their function is keeping everyone’s eyes on the prize and gunning for the next win. (For instance, think Steve Jobs’s unrelenting aim for greatness, despite a notoriously abrasive personality.)
While The Brain is critical for peak-performance teams, this big personality also has its share of drawbacks. The Brain has a tendency to be overly forceful and domineering in their communication style, which can work against engagement and performance. And because they’re so action-oriented, they can exhaust the people around them or move on to the next thing without properly analyzing the situation, leaving important questions unasked or solutions unconsidered.
The Brain needs the other three profiles on the team to balance out their forceful determination.
The Voice sees the big picture, realizes how it all fits together and motivates and inspires everyone to keep pushing toward a common goal. This is the team member described as the visionary, the influencer, the inspiration. Like The Brain, The Voice is outcome-driven. They have big dreams and want to take equally big action to achieve them. However, The Voice balances out the hard-driving nature of The Brain because they lead in a more positive, energizing, and inspirational manner. They’re considered more of a “people person” than their fellow big-personality counterpart, The Brain. Many founders, thought leaders, and popular media personalities fall into this category, such as Elon Musk or Oprah Winfrey.
Where The Voice can run into trouble is getting stuck in such big-picture thinking that they completely overlook small but important details. They might be so enamored of their amazing idea that they gloss over how to actually get it done. And, much like The Brain, The Voice can move on to the next project before the first is ever finished. In addition, The Voice’s constant energy and positivity can be a little too much for others on the team, becoming exhausting. When their head is in the clouds, they need The Sharp Eye, described in more detail below, to bring them back down to earth.
THE SHARP EYE
While The Brain and The Voice are all about big goals and motivation, The Sharp Eye focuses on the details to get things done the right way. The Sharp Eye is analytical, logical, and rational. They may not be who you want in front of a room to inspire a crowd, but they’re definitely who you want down in the weeds making sure the data is correct. The Sharp Eye thinks through each process to ensure they’re effective. Like a sweeper on a soccer field, nothing gets past them. A high-profile tactical executor like Bill Gates might be considered a Sharp Eye.
However, while The Sharp Eye is essential to getting things done on a project, this personality type can often get stuck in analysis paralysis. The Sharp Eye can become so preoccupied with perfecting details and completing micro-goals that they either move forward very slowly or are completely stagnant. This is why every team also needs The Brain and The Voice to stay focused on lofty goals and keep everyone moving forward.
The thread that binds the team, The Heart creates community, consensus, and collaboration. This personality tends to be everyone’s favorite to work with. They’re the person gung-ho for teamwork, the one who brings people together to achieve great things. The Heart listens well, but also makes sure everyone feels heard. They are patient, collaborative, compassionate, steady, and calm. The Heart thrives on community-driven projects, bringing harmony to discord and keeping others engaged to prevent burnout. Brené Brown is a prime example of The Heart.
The Heart’s weakness can be focusing on people over results. They might choose to spare someone’s feelings instead of sharing constructive feedback about an idea, which can make the idea less effective and the project less successful. The Brain and The Sharp Eye bring an equilibrium to the team by balancing out The Heart’s people-centric focus with more of a deliberate, task-based focus.
Achieving the right team chemistry requires understanding how different personality types harmoniously work together to achieve better results. As a leader, first improve your own self-awareness to determine which personalities you require to enhance your own strengths and supplement your weaker areas. Then, ensure your people understand this about themselves, as well as about each other.
By ensuring you have an optimal balance of The Brain, The Voice, The Sharp Eye, and The Heart, it’s possible to curate teams that play to the strengths of each individual. You can’t fundamentally change who people are, but you can control how well they’re positioned to interact with one another.
Originally published in Fast Company magazine on October 14th, 2020.