The conundrum of team working: Balance vs. similarity, harmony vs. conflict

Bill McAneny's picture
Published on Thu, 09/19/2013 - 10:03 by Bill McAneny

Team Working

All the studies show what we kind of knew anyway that teams need a balance, ie to be most effective it should be made up of different types of people. John Katzenbach put it so eloquently when he defined a team as:

A team is a small number of people with complementary skills who are committed to an agreed purpose, goals, and approach for which they hold themselves mutually accountable.

But the problem often comes with the ‘complementary skills’ piece, as we tend to ‘get,’ and be more comfortable with people who are like us, yet it is our differences that make us more effective. So in a nutshell similarity creates harmony but difference gives us balance, which makes us more effective but can cause conflict. So how do we square this?

Well as with all personality issues it is about understanding, ie recognising the differences and how these can be brought together. For example if an extravert and an introvert can recognise what makes them different, then they can accommodate and this will make working together more powerful. Extraverts like to verbalise their thoughts so their neural processing takes place through speaking it out while introverts prefer to think things through before speaking. We can see the differences here:

Extravert vs. Introvert

And what about opposite types?

They can bring such a balance, combining their differences to great effect, but if they don’t understand each other, or value the difference then it leads to conflict. Consider the action oriented, factual ESTJ working with the more reflective and people oriented INFP. Both bring incredible strengths to a team or working relationship but if they don’t ‘get,’ or value the difference the INFP may see the ESTJ as a little brutal who just cuts to the chase while the ESTJ may see the INFP as too nice, laid back and a little enigmatic as we see here:


Even types that share some similar characteristics have differences that work better when the differences are understood and brought together. For example an ESTJ will want to drive in a planned way towards a known conclusion, while the ESTP will prefer to work in sporadic bursts of energy, jumping in to fix things and then jumping out again, looking for the next challenge:


Some types can also be mistaken for another so it is really useful to test it out. For example the ENTP is often mistaken for the ENFP because they are so plausible, entertaining and engaging. The ENTP will tend to make decisions that are extremely logical and will often move on once something more interesting comes up. Knowing this can help make sure there are no surprises:


So opposites may not initially “attract,” but once they truly ‘get’ each other the combination of an ESTJ and an INFP can bring an action-oriented, speedy and factual approach that also gently factors in harmony and the impact on people. This is the same with all types so it is worth just taking the time to understand our opposites, not out of some altruistic reason but because when it comes to teams, it works better.

So what’s your opposite type and how well do you really understand them?

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