One of the toughest parts about managing people is managing personalities. It’s great having diverse teams with people who think differently and offer all sorts of creative ideas, but getting everyone to work together can be a real challenge.
At Clearhead, we recently spoke to a recognised global expert on this very subject. Dr. Stephanie Schoss is a Director at the HSG Executive School of Management, Technology & Law at the University of St. Gallen in Switzerland.
She is a founding Director of the Competence Center for Top Team Research at the HSG Institute of International Management, and has done extensive research looking at team personality, leadership and bringing people with different personalities together.
These are some of the salient points she mentioned. You can listen to the full conversation on Spotify, Apple, or wherever you get your podcasts.
Unlocking the advantage
As part of her research looking at around 200 different teams, Stephanie says the ones with the most different personalities were the most successful. However, this comes with a warning: unless team members are prepared to deal with different personalities, it can backfire.
“We have to be careful because if you throw a bunch of different people together, misunderstanding appears, people take differences in other people personally and conflict can arise,” she says.
In looking at successful teams with various personalities, Stephanie says they all have two common personality types: someone who’s good at communicating and someone who’s an empathetic problem solver.
She says having people with these traits on the team act as a high level diversity management strategy because they help to inter-weave the differences you get from different personality styles. They are more conscious of other people, making for an inclusive environment where people can be themselves, express themselves, understand each other and work together.
Without people playing these key roles, she says issues can easily arise.
Laying the groundwork
It takes work to get different people with different personalities to gel together well. It doesn’t happen by accident. So how can you do it?
The first step is to do some type of personality testing within your team. This has the advantage of having people understand themselves better - how they work, how they communicate, what motivates them - as well as each other. There are a number of different tools available to do this, and recommended examples are listed at the bottom of this article.
When people understand how their colleagues work, they can tailor their own behaviour to suit. However, once again, Stephanie says there’s a risk involved if this isn’t done properly.
She says it’s important this work isn’t a one off: “It’s not fast food, it’s a life-long learning journey.”
“The risk is doing it as a 30 minute exercise, where people are still stuck in their own thinking but they have more tools to judge people quickly…(Instead) use it and start a journey by elevating yourself constantly, understanding yourself better and offering a tailored leadership towards employee personality types.”
In short, don’t do it as a one-off. Make an effort to have regular sessions focusing on understanding the personalities you have in the team, how each other work and think, and how people can work well together. You can also enlist a professional who specialises in team building and collaboration between personalities to help.
One of the key areas to help individuals work through is how to communicate with each other in a way that will be perceived as they intend it. The communication that exists within teams goes a long way to enabling people to be themselves and work together harmoniously.
This starts by recognising that, as individuals, everyone has different ways of making decisions, thinking, communicating and operating that influence the way they act. By raising awareness of that, you avoid potential conflict and allow people to be authentic with less risk of being hurt, or hurting others.
Stephanie uses the example of a colleague of hers who is a very rational thinker, who explains that at the start of meetings with new people and invites people not to take offence. This sets a scene where he can ask certain questions in a certain way, that team members know he’s satisfying his need for information to be presented in a logical, clear way, rather than being antagonistic or difficult.
Similarly, those who are more social or creative can communicate their needs in a way that’s mindful of others, while also ensuring they can process challenges or decisions or information how they need to.
But for that to happen, people first need to understand those needs within themselves. Only once you’ve done that, can you explain it to others.
“It’s so powerful being clear who you are so other people don’t have to guess your behaviour or take your behaviour as an offence towards them,” Stephanie says.
Leaders as role models
Like many aspects of team management, your influence as a leader is huge. Managers have the ability to create a culture of psychological safety where people are empowered to be themselves, but your actions can also destroy that culture incredibly quickly.
When doing exercises or anything that feels risky - whether in this space or not - you should take the lead and go first. Your willingness to be vulnerable sets the platform that allows others to do the same, and for that to be accepted within the group.
On a more day-to-day level, leaders can make a huge difference by modelling their authentic selves at work. That means being open with the team about who you are and how you feel, but also about uncertainties, fears and doubts. You’re allowed to have a bad day, and tell your team that you’re feeling off.
It may not sound like much, but this is huge for demonstrating that it’s ok for people to really be themselves at work and it’s an important step towards creating a psychologically safe workplace.
In order to do this, you need to spend time understanding yourself, your inner-most motivations and characteristics. When you have a good sense of yourself, you can match that with what you put out into the world. Stephanie describes this as being key to fulfilment and health.
While you might be able to minimise conflict in your team through taking these steps, don’t expect to eliminate it altogether. The way you resolve and bounce back from conflict is what’s important.
Conflict often comes when feedback is shared and team members take it personally. Stephanie says one thing that can prevent this is the way the team approaches feedback.
As the team leader, encourage your people to think of feedback as a gift. “It’s an invitation to grow and do better,” Stephanie says. “People may not deliver it in the best way, but accept the truth that’s in it.”
It’s very rare that someone will share feedback to offend another person. When team members understand each other's personalities, they can alter how they deliver feedback so it doesn’t hit so hard. But when they don’t get it right and it might hurt someone, encourage that person to look past the delivery, understand the message, and see it as an opportunity to grow.
As a manager, part of your training should include specific conflict resolution and management. Getting ongoing experience in this field is the best way to learn. You’ll learn a range of techniques that you can call on when you need them, and hone your ability to recognise the best one for a certain situation.
One technique Stephanie recommends is the Clearing process. Clearing conversations follow a set guideline and help colleagues to work through facts, and understand each other’s interpretations, feelings and desires. They can be confronting at times, so should be introduced and trialled in a controlled setting before being utilised in a company-wide scenario.
Managing personalities is a skill on its own, and managers shouldn’t be expected to be able to do this without training. The best way to learn how to do it effectively is to put time and effort into it and most importantly to start with yourself.
You can listen to the full Clear the Air podcast with Stephanie Schoss on Spotify, Apple or wherever you get your podcasts.
Topics covered in this podcast include:
- How do you define personality?
- What are the different personality types?
- What makes team successful?
- What are the steps to creating effective teams?
- How do you deal with conflict in a team?
- How should you use tools like Myers Briggs and are they helpful?
- What is self leadership?
- Why aligning our intrinsic motivation with our sense of self unlocks boundless energy
- The importance for leaders to develop self awareness and self regulate their thoughts and emotions
- What are the techniques employees can use to give constructive feedback to their leaders?
- Why conflict management starts with managing our own thoughts and emotions
- What do you do if you are in a toxic work environment?
- Are younger generations less resilient than before, and does this lead to higher employee turnover?
- Does mental illness change your personality?
- What is the best way to deal with someone’s strength or weakness?
- What is the neuroscience behind personality?
- How leaders can align employees’ internal purpose with the company’s goals to motivate different personality types
- How leaders create psychologically safe workplace that gives employees the permission to bring their authentic self to work
- What you can do to be more confident in who you are as a person
- Should managers do anything if they feel their employees are not comfortable showing their real self?
For those interested in further reading or links to resources discussed in the podcast, Stephanie recommends the following:
The Clearing Model can be used within teams to help people to recognise the difference between facts, stories, feelings, desires, and projections.
For more on conflict resolution, she recommends the following articles from Harvard Business Review: