Building Successful Teams to Address High-Stakes Challenges

Workplace teams, and how to make them work, is a topic of seemingly endless research and analysis – including a number of high-profile efforts to define the perfect team.

The recent edition of The Harvard Business Review (March–April 2017 ) features several articles on teams, including a cover story outlining the personality traits that compose most teams. More on that in a minute.

It’s true that not all teams are the same or of equal importance. Over the years, we have studied teams tasked with implementing significant business initiatives. These are teams where investments are significant and failure is not an option (implementing change; driving innovation; entering new markets, etc.). We call these “high-stakes” teams.

High-stakes teams need a sponsor, someone who advocates for the initiative and gets buy-in and resources from the organization. Beyond the sponsor, the most successful high-stakes teams have people in four well-defined roles. What’s more, each role requires a unique set of abilities (competencies) and a personality profile.

This is the framework of roles that we consistently see as important for the success of high-stakes teams:

Manager: The person who directs, simplifies, delegates, assigns priorities, develops others, and gets the job done at all costs.
Inventor: The person who integrates trends and data into concepts, models, and plans. The inventor also helps address challenges and deals with unanticipated obstacles.
Expert: The person who takes responsibility for the required technical knowledge and skill, uses information skillfully, and explains it in a logical way.
Integrator: The person who forges alliances, gets acceptance of the team and their program, and relates practical plans to strategic plans and organizational issues.

It makes sense that other teams with different responsibilities and objectives might require a different set of roles. But here’s what’s most important:

Focus first on the work to be performed by the team;
Next, decide what roles need to be played to do that work;
Last, determine which people you need on the team based on the roles required for success.

About Teams & Personality Styles

The HBR article I mentioned earlier holds to a long-accepted view that understanding personality styles can help teams function more effectively. Said another way: Personality styles can help you fine tune and optimize team performance.

The authors, consultants at Deloitte, intended to bring personality assessment into the workplace using business language. The net result is to help people understand and manage a diversity of working styles to promote effective team functioning. In the process, they consulted a biological anthropologist and a molecular biologist to support their observations with studies of brain chemistry and its effects on relationships to support their thesis.

The Four Deloitte Styles

This article boiled down their research to define four work styles – which are best characterized as types of people:

Pioneers – people who value possibilities, spark energy and imagination on their teams, are drawn to bold ideas and believe risks are worth taking, go with their gut, and focus on the big picture.

Guardians – people who value stability, are pragmatic, are risk averse, and require data, facts, and detail.

Drivers – people who value challenge, generate momentum, view issues as black-and-white, tackle problems head on, and believe that getting results and winning count most.

Integrators – people who value connections and draw teams together, see relationships and responsibility to the group as paramount, believe that most things are relative, and focus on building consensus.

Comparing Styles vs. Roles

When we compared how the Deloitte research defined their four styles and how we defined the essential roles for implementing change, their styles and our roles map together surprisingly well.

Several important take-aways from this chart:

“Styles” (how people behave) and “roles” (the parts people play) are different. Nevertheless, there is a significant connection between the two in the way they are described.
Though the Deloitte styles model was designed to identify and manage differences in how people approach their work, Cambria’s model based on roles suggests that all four styles are necessary for implementing change.
Most importantly: Roles require different competencies (knowledge, skills, knowledge, abilities and dispositions) for best performance. The Deloitte styles model is a model of differences but not of competency.

Styles and Competencies Are Both Necessary

Managing diversity in teams is one of the keys to effective team functioning. Having a common language to describe meaningful differences in how team members interact and approach their work is a valuable contribution. However, we must not forget that it’s not all about behavior; each team member must do something. This requires an understanding of the role each person on the team must play; the responsibilities and activities required of each role; and the competencies to perform each role effectively. Therefore, a complete model of effective team functioning should include all three.

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