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Personality Types that Can Hold Back Workplace Collaboration

Dan Sines

CEO at Traitify | Star Wars & Superhero Fan, Adventurer, aspiring Renaissance Man | Inventor/Visionary in Work

Some people aren't cut out well for collaboration in the workplace due to their personality types and traits. 

That doesn't make them bad people, or even bad employees

It's just a matter of fit.

With so many companies attempting to harness the power of collaboration to drive innovation, productivity, and profit, we spend a lot of time focusing on (and writing about) the role that personality plays in team initiatives.

Today we’ll take a different approach to this important topic. We’ve examined what contributes to successful collaboration, but what about the opposite? What personality types and traits are most likely to impede teamwork? After all, knowing what to avoid can be every bit as valuable as knowing what to seek — sometimes even more so.

Rules of the Road

Let’s start with what differentiates the most effective collaborative groups from their less effective counterparts. An expert on organizational culture, leadership, and teaming, Jon Katzenbach, says researchers have identified one fundamental indicator of well-functioning teams: members are “in sync with one another through a few behavioral norms.”

What norms, specifically? It doesn’t matter, so long as they allow people to feel confident with one another, says Katzenbach, coauthor of The Wisdom of Teams: Creating the High-Performance Organization and a managing director with consulting firm PwC US. 

When all team members feel free to express themselves and their ideas without fear of ridicule or outright rejection; when they feel at liberty to take chances, they are in a safe space “to capitalize on opportunities quickly, innovatively, and with great determination,” Katzenbach says. 

Conversely, in dysfunctional teams, members dismiss the ideas of others. They fear talking openly and taking risks. 

Katzenbach’s final point: “It turned out that the purely functional aspects of a team’s performance — the members’ professional backgrounds, experience, drive, or intelligence, for example — were not as relevant to success as this safe-space facility.”

You Want Me to Follow What?

So, above all else, we need people who will commit to and respect some rules. Again, the rules themselves don't matter very much. The group needs to select the norms that work best for it, and then observe them without fail. Katzenbach gives this example: “Do we take turns speaking, or jump in when we have an important idea?” Either can serve, provided there’s agreement and consistency in practice.

For some personality types, following rules is a challenge to their dispositions. Take the Visionary and the Inventor. Generally speaking, the Visionary is aggressive, competitive, pioneering and is someone who likes to take charge and convince others. At some point in the collaborative process, the norms may come to look to the Visionary like a hindrance rather than a help; and the compulsion to take charge may trump respect for the rules. 

Meanwhile, the Inventor personality type tends to be creative, unconventional, and spontaneous. These people often prefer to pave new paths than walk established ones. In some contexts, there’s no better type. In others, an Inventor’s creativity can be disruptive to others. 

At this point, you may be thinking, If I’m going to assemble a collaborative group with a goal of innovation, then I certainly need Visionaries and Inventors. You’re absolutely correct. That’s why you don’t want to overemphasize someone’s personality type without considering his or her the personality traits. 

Let me explain. There are generally five to seven personality types, and most of us are a blend of more than one. Meanwhile, there are scores upon scores of personality traits (e.g., aggressive, spontaneous, patient, compulsive), and we all fall somewhere on the spectrum of each. So, when you’re selecting a Visionary or an Inventor for the team, consider each candidate’s traits. Some may follow rules and norms well. For others, there’s certainly other, more suitable assignments for them.

Other Considerations

With the essential rules in place, Katzenbach tells us effective groups are expressive, creative, confident, innovative, determined, and decisive. Is there anything to be wary of here, in terms of types and traits? 

One doesn’t need to be a psychologist to think that those who prefer to work alone, the Action-Taker and Analyzer types, for instance, might not be the best fits. Again, however, be alert but don’t discard them without evaluating their traits. 

Following are a few other personality types to be a bit wary about when building teams or hiring for roles that require a lot of collaboration: 

  • Competitive: A competitive nature can be a great asset in business, but someone who is driven to outdo or defeat others in every situation can harm a collaborative group. If some members become defensive, that safe space may be destroyed. 
  • Conventional: Someone at the far end of this spectrum may prove to be a human roadblock in terms of innovation, bound inextricably to the generally accepted ways of doing things.
  • Confident: There’s nothing wrong with confidence, in the right amount — but those who are overconfident tend toward control. And that can breed resentment and damage group cohesion.

We maintain a list of traits that includes brief descriptions. If you have a moment, take a look. Think about how too little or too much of each one might hold back collaboration. And feel free to reach out and request a demonstration of how our various assessment solutions can help you better understand each of your employees’ unique personality types and traits, so you can start using science to build truly effective collaborative teams.

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