Hogan case study: The nice team that went nowhere

Posted by Hogan Assessments on Tue, Dec 27, 2016

Team performance depends on having a clear mission—a sense of purpose—and the right people to deliver it.

In the face of widespread and systematic safety failures, including worker deaths, a large organization created a new health and safety team and gave it power and autonomy to identify and fix the problems and policies that were putting their workers in danger. Six months into the mission, the team was meandering and hadn’t made any impact.

Although the mission was really clear, the team consisted of people who were powerfully driven by relationships but with no drive or ambition. They were genuine, friendly people who put a lot of effort into reaching out across the organization, but couldn’t deliver results.

People have two roles within a team: functional and psychological. Functional roles are determined by a person’s position or title—Chief Financial Officer, lead engineer, accountant, etc. Psychological roles are informal roles which people naturally gravitate to based on their personalities.

“When individuals are formed into a team with a designated task, there is an awkward phase in which everyone is searching for how he or she fits in—his or her psychological role,” said Dave Winsborough, VP of Innovation at Hogan X. “We found that there are five psychological roles to which people naturally gravitate: results, relationships, process, innovation, and pragmatism.”

For a team to function properly, its psychological roles have to be balanced. First, there has to be enough diversity among team members that each role is filled. This sounds simple enough, but people are naturally attracted to others who are like themselves, meaning self-formed teams are likely to be fairly homogenous. In this case, the team was heavy on people in the relationships role—concerned with keeping peace within the group and with outside stakeholders—with none in the results role, which focuses on clarifying goals, driving action, and holding team members accountable for their work.

Second, there have to be enough individuals in each role to provide critical mass. In other words, no single person can fill more than one role. Some roles may require the efforts of more than one person, so there have to be enough people to get the job done. When psychological roles are correctly balanced, the natural push and pull between the different roles creates healthy conflict that can help teams function.

In this instance, our advice to the CEO was changing the team’s membership, starting with putting someone in the results role — a stronger, more assertive leader. That was a tough call, and in light of the recent shift to install this group, one he was reluctant to take.

He persevered with the current membership for another 12 months, providing stronger and stronger direction for the team. But personality is hard to change. Two years later, there was another restructure, and the team that went nowhere was disbanded.

To find out more about how personality impacts team performance, check out our ebook, The Secret to Successful Teams: Conflict.

Topics: team

There is no "I" in TALENT?

Posted by Jackie VanBroekhoven on Thu, Jul 14, 2011

A virtual debate in the business blogosphere has been growing more and more heated over the past several weeks and months.  It appears the debate began with a May 17th New York Times article that quoted Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook’s illustrious CEO, as saying, “Someone who is exceptional in their role is not just a little better than someone who is pretty good. They are 100 times better.”  Although difficult to follow at first, Zuckerberg’s argument is that a brilliant individual is 100 times more valuable than a mediocre team.  His statement reflects a new strategy in the War on Talent that many have also begun to adopt.  According to the Times article, many of the giants in Silicon Valley are so desperate for fresh talent they have resorted to purchasing entire companies simply to acquire the gifted entrepreneurs, engineers, and programmers that created and comprise them.  This new practice has been dubbed “acqhiring,” and is becoming more common in industries where the competition for talent is fierce and requires more benefits, dazzling incentives, and creative ways to attract the best and brightest.

Zuckerberg’s thoughts are not shared by all, however.  In a rebuttal of sorts, HBR blogger Bill Taylor posted a piece of his mind called Great People Are Overrated on June 20th, in which he questions the practice of placing all of the eggs in a single, metaphorical basket.  Taylor warns his readers about the dangers of putting too much emphasis on “star players” and underestimating the power of an effective team.  In simpler terms, the quarterback cannot win the game alone, but the entire second string playing as a team may have a fighting chance; or at least they would in a heartwarming Hollywood blockbuster.  In our desperation to retain top talent, are those of us in talent management becoming overly focused on star-power and losing sight of what actually drives performance?  Taylor also points out that most talent decisions would not realistically involve a choice between one exceptional person and 100 mediocre people.  However, if forced to make the choice what would you decide?

Adding to the web debate is fellow HBR blogger Jeff Stibel, CEO of Dun & Bradstreet Credibility Corp.  Stibel responded directly to Taylor on June 27th with his blog, Why a Great Individual Is Better Than a Good Team.  He not only agrees with Zuckerberg, but takes it one step further by saying that a great individual is worth an infinite number of average people.  Why?  Stibel claims that our cognitive functioning breaks down in group settings, and that the value of an individual contributor declines with each additional team member working on a single idea or project.  He likens his argument to the economic law of diminishing returns, or – more simply put – too many cooks in the kitchen will spoil the broth.

Evaluating both sides of this argument from a psychologist’s perspective, I propose another point of view.  As with all matters involving human beings, we cannot place too much or too little emphasis on the importance of individual differences in our talent management philosophy.  The dynamics of human interaction, team performance, and individual effectiveness are far too complex to be reduced to sports metaphors or culinary idioms.  It is very easy to cull up images of the brilliant artist, boy genius, or start-up entrepreneur who works best as a “lone wolf,” locked up in an office or studio with nothing more than their ideas and their IQ points.  For these individuals, perhaps it is possible to claim that an individual is better than a team.  These salient examples, however intriguing they are, do not define the global workforce or talent pool that we are currently facing.  Today’s effective organizations need dreamers and doers, leaders and team players, and generally rely on the cooperation and coordination of many. 

Jeff Stibel’s argument is somewhat lost on me for a few reasons.  First, individual differences matter.  For every person who works better alone, there is at least one person who thrives on social interaction, gains energy from working in teams, and feels motivated by opportunities to collaborate.  Behind every brilliant program or idea developed by a software genius is a person or team who knows how to actually market the product, balance the books, manage the necessary resources, etc.  Second, organizational performance cannot be determined by calculating the arithmetic sum of each individual contributor’s brilliance, ability, or creativity.  Rather, organizational performance is determined by the extent to which individuals can effectively perform together as a team.  Finally, taking into account individual differences and team dynamics, success will also depend on the quality of leadership, which ideally provides a compelling vision, adequate resources, and the strategic direction necessary to maximize the talent within an organization.

The debate rages on – see Taylor’s Great People Are Overrated (Part II).  However, it seems that all parties agree that the War on Talent is a reality, and that continued organizational success depends on the ability to attract, retain, and perhaps even “acqhire” top talent.  My opinion diverges from the debate based on a belief that neither the individual nor the team is sufficient to guarantee organizational success.  A much more complex formula governs the outcomes we care about in today’s talent landscape and informs where we decide to funnel our resources.  The final statement in Stibel’s blog is one I absolutely agree with: “One decision is easy: find the best people and empower them to do great things.” 

Topics: leadership, talent management, organizational success, team

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