Is Understanding Personality Types the Underlying Key to a Successful Team?

As an executive search firm, our primary objective in each process is to appoint an exceptional leader; whether that be a CEO, Managing Director or functional leader.

We place these individuals into new roles and hope they have the desired impact on the organisation, measuring this directly with our clients after 12 months.

However, it is commonly observed that an individual can only generate a certain amount of success for an organisation and, as Deloitte states, “53 percent of organisations report a significant improvement when shifting to a team-centric operating model”. A multitude of factors could contribute to a high-performing team, however Kirsty Sim, our Head of Research argues that understanding individual personality types and preferences could actually be the underlying key to many of these factors.

Exact definitions of personality types vary from Psychologist to Psychologist, and test to test, however most tend to be fairly accurate and mean similar things. For example, Myers-Briggs Type Indicator and Insights are both based on Carl Jung’s theory of personality types (extraversion versus introversion, sensation versus intuition, thinking versus feeling and judging versus perceiving), and OPQ and Saville Wave are both based on the Big 5 theory (openness, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness and neuroticism).

Below, Kirsty explores three factors that might impact a team’s performance, and how understanding the personality types of team members (and others) might enhance team success.


1. Diversity

Diversity, of course, comes in many forms; and whilst characteristics such as age, gender and cultural backgrounds are typically front of mind, we should also put attention to ‘cognitive’ diversity, i.e. “thinking styles, habits and perspectives” (Gartner).

Ensuring your team is constructed of individuals who think differently and have different preferences eliminates the risk of ‘groupthink’, allowing the achievement of better outcomes. An understanding of personality types is key here as you will only know that you have a team with diverse personalities and thinking styles if you can determine and understand what these are within your team.

An article from Harvard Business Review suggests that individuals have two roles in a working group, their ‘functional role’ based on technical skill and position within the organisation, and their ‘psychological role’ based on their personality type. Authors of the article, Winsborough and Chamorro-Premuzic, argue that often when teams fail to perform, “there is no psychological synergy”.

Teams require a mix of personalities and preferences to ensure that they are not simply approaching something that satisfies one preference, i.e. a team of relationship-focused individuals may struggle to challenge each other’s thinking.


2. Communication

It is well-known that strong communication is an essential factor in achieving success as a team. A survey from The Economist Intelligence Unit found that 42% of respondents cited different communication styles as a cause for poor communication in the workplace.

People naturally communicate in the way that they prefer, however, if individuals were to consider the personality types of others in the team and what that might mean about the way they prefer to communicate, they may be able to tailor their own communication styles to suit others and reach a successful outcome.

For example, an individual who is more analytical may need more time to reflect and consider their responses than someone who is more decisive and intuitive. If these individuals are pressured by others in the team to communicate their views before they are ready, it is likely to lead to difficult team dynamics and could negatively impact success.


3. Accountability

Douglas Smith and Jon Katzenbach discuss the need for mutual accountability in order to drive success and create a high-performing team in their book, The Wisdom of Teams: Creating the High-Performance Organization. Whilst mutual accountability is important, it is also essential that individuals take accountability for tasks that correlate with their preferences.

For example, it would be counterproductive for an individual who has a preference for innovation to be accountable for project management, and vice versa, for an individual who has a preference to be detail-oriented and precise to be accountable for innovation.

A team who understands their individual personalities and preferences should be able to volunteer accountability for the task that is most suited to them, and equally a leader who understands their team member’s personalities and preferences should be able to delegate these appropriately.


Psychometric Testing

The evidence discussed here points to the value of psychometric and personality tools in creating greater self, as well as team, awareness. This is hugely advantageous in a multitude of business situations, extending to a greater understanding of clients, customers and wider colleagues; potentially leading to stronger business performance, stronger relationship building and increased productivity.

Livingston James’ experience of using these tools as part of an executive search process has been very positive as it also provides another form of assessment, ensuring that the appointment is concluded in a well-rounded and robust manner.


There are various forms of personality testing available. In order to discuss your requirements in more detail, please contact Kirsty Sim, our in-house psychometric assessor at [email protected].

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