Creating the ultimate team mix

BY Jayashantha Jayawardhana

For all intents and purposes, a team of qualified, talented and experienced people in a pleasant working environment, led by highly competent leaders and remunerated reasonably well above the industry average, can’t help but excel in the pursuit of articulate and realistic performance goals set for them.

But what appears to be a consummate recipe for extraordinary performance may not work for many organisations… for no apparent reason.

In most cases, it’s the leaders who are to blame and not individual employees. Because this happens when leaders fail to understand and harness diverse work styles, as well as perspectives, even at the most senior levels.

“Some managers simply don’t recognise how profound the differences between their people are; others don’t know how to manage the gaps and tensions or understand the costs of not doing so,” note Suzanne Vickberg and Kim Christfort. They co-authored the research article ‘Pioneers, Drivers, Integrators and Guardians’ in the Harvard Business Review (HBR).

They add: “As a result, some of the best ideas go unheard or unrealised and performance suffers.”

To help business leaders reclaim the lost value, Deloitte designed a system called Business Chemistry that identifies four primary work styles and related strategies for accomplishing shared goals.

Although most people’s behaviour and thinking are closely aligned with one or two work styles, each of us is a composite of these four primary approaches and exhibit them more or less at work.

Importantly, all these work styles bring useful perspectives and distinctive approaches to generating ideas, making decisions and solving problems. But in each person, one style dominates; and it largely drives his or her behaviour and thinking at work.

PIONEERS Such individuals value possibilities. They think big, and unleash energy and imagination on their teams. They’re risk takers who always look at the bigger picture and are inherently drawn to big audacious ideas. They don’t mind the uncertainty and consistently exhibit these traits at work. Once in a while, most of us look on some ideas the same way but pioneers keep doing it forever.

GUARDIANS As the name suggests, these are cautious people who value stability and seek to bring order and rigour to their systems. They’re pragmatic, process oriented and not given to taking risks – unlike the pioneers. Guardians need ample data to crunch with solid facts and insights to convince them before making decisions. They love to comb through the details for critical insights and believe it makes perfect sense to learn from the past.

DRIVERS These individuals love to take on challenges and build momentum. It’s getting results and winning that matter most. They tend to regard problems as being black and white, and tackle them head-on, armed with logic and data. And they can drive themselves and others in the team to clear any obstacles that arise, and achieve tough goals.

INTEGRATORS Such people seek to harness the power of connections and draw teams together. Collaborative work relationships and responsibility to the group are vital to the success of a business. Integrators tend to view most things as being relative, and are tactful and focussed on securing consensus.

A team that’s a composite of these primary work styles must – in theory at least – perform remarkably well because they get to enjoy the benefits of cognitive diversity ranging from enhanced creativity and innovation to improved decision making under such an arrangement. Yet, time and again, even diverse teams fail to perform well.

Let’s find out how to establish the right team mix that yields the best results.

Guardians and pioneers are polar opposites, as are drivers and integrators. But because of these very differences, they can balance each other out, insuring your business against groupthink. If you bring them together, it will spark a good deal of productive friction, and a natural checks and balances mechanism.

In the world of work, a hypothetical team of 10 won’t necessarily comprise two persons from each type. If you identify six guardians, one pioneer, two drivers and one integrator among them, you’ll be leading guardians in the main and should tailor your leadership style to that.

At the same time, you can’t simply overlook the other types of people in your team. To harness these behavioural dynamics at work, you should be an emotionally intelligent leader who is comfortable with these different work styles and possesses a keen sense of what works best where.

The bottom line is that all these primary work styles are serviceable to a business. For optimal results, pick teams and assign projects to them only after a thorough assessment of their predominant individual work styles.