The Effect of Personality Type on Team Performance

Summary by Pam Hollister


Following is a summary of an article in the Journal of Management Development, Vol. 16, No. 5, 1997, pp 337-353, MCB University Press, 0262-1711; by John H. Bradley and Frederic J. Hebert, East Carolina University, Greenville, South Carolina, USA. For a complete copy of Vol. 16, No. 5, contact: pamhollister@thepeopleprocess.com

Team approach to IS development

The purpose of this paper is to highlight the impact of personality type on team productivity and to propose a model that can be used to analyze the personality-type composition of an information system (IS) development team.

Expected benefits of successful teams include increased motivation, greater task commitment, higher levels of performance, ability to withstand stress, more innovative solutions, and decreased development time.

Ineffective teams may be the product of inappropriate team composition. Deciding to use a team approach is only the first step. Great care must be exercised in building the team to ensure its ultimate effectiveness. There are a number of pitfalls involving group dynamics that can undermine a teamís effectiveness. Bradley and Hebert propose a model of the impact of the personality-type composition of a team on overall team performance. The model applies personality-type theory to the team building process and then illustrates the importance of this theory by evaluating a case example of two software development teams. One of the teams was considered to be very productive by management, while the other teamís performance was judged to be unsatisfactory.

This case study is valuable because it clearly demonstrates the influences of personality type on two teams that are comparable in age, IQ, problem-solving ability, gender, and task responsibility. The task of IS development is appropriate to the discussion because it is of such relative complexity, especially with the use of multi-functional teams, that its successful accomplishment requires a high level of harmony among the team members.

Within this paper Bradley and Hebert discuss the influence of personality-type composition on team performance. Four critical factors are discussed in the context of successful IS development teams, followed by a discussion of personality types using Jungian psychological-type theory as a framework. A theoretical model of preferences for team composition is derived by applying personality-type theory to the four factors. The influences of personality type on the two software development teamsí performance are discussed and conclusions and recommendations are presented concerning team personality-type composition and its influence on team performance.

Critical factors for effective teams

An increasingly popular example of the team approach to IS development is joint application design (JAD). JAD is an example of representative design which involves user representatives in the decisions required to formulate an IS. One of the basic dimensions of team effectiveness involves individual differences. The ideal team should be highly diversified in the talent and knowledge each member contributes, while maintaining open, non-threatening communication.

JAD refers to the inclusion of members of the user departments along with the IS specialists on the development team. From JAD literature, three characteristics of productive teams that are strongly related to individual differences seem to dominate: effective leadership, intra-team communication, and group cohesion. Although all three of these characteristics are partially dependent on the personality types of the individuals involved, personality is rarely directly included in the discussions. The four dominant individual difference characteristics of productive teams Ė Leadership, Communication, Cohesion, Heterogeneity Ė can be combined, based on the common thread of personality type, to form an evaluative model of the impact of personality type on team performance.

Effective leadership is an especially important factor in the success of an IS development team. A knowledgeable, assertive leader must not only be available and properly trained in group dynamics, but must also be the type of person who can lead people who represent different functional areas and different levels of management. They must control the team meetings, drawing everyone into the discussions until a consensus is reached. The leader must also be able to keep the team on track and quickly resolve conflicts. These qualities suggest a person who is aware of the different personality types and how each type influences overall team performance.

Intra-team communication is another critical factor that influences IS development team success. A problem with intra-team communication may manifest itself in several ways.

Cohesion has also been identified as a crucial ingredient in team effectiveness. A cohesive team will demonstrate a spirit of togetherness and support for one another that helps team members quickly resolve conflicts.

The personality type heterogeneity of team members and its influence on successful group performance concludes that for complex problem solving, teams made up of different types of individuals with a variety of skills, knowledge, abilities and perspectives are more effective than groups that are more homogeneous. A diversity in skills and knowledge combined with a balance of personality types is desirable for effective teams.

Certain personality types are more accepting of others and more willing to consider different perspectives. Certain types are risk-averse while others are stimulated by risk-taking. Certain types are motivated by the challenge of an unsolved problem, while others are easily overwhelmed and slip into inaction. Certain types make natural leaders while others are more comfortable as followers. Certain personality types are natural communicators while others find it very difficult to express themselves. Each personality type, however, has a positive contribution to make to the overall effectiveness of the team therefore a balance of personality types should be sought.

A model of the effect of personality type on team performance

In general, the best leader is an ESTJ or an ENTJ, depending on the task involved. The extroverted leader will readily communicate directions and organizational information.

Intra-team communication will be more natural for the extrovert than the introvert, the sensing than the intuitive, and the thinking than the feeling personality types. Extroverts are natural communicators and too many extroverts can result in confusion as they interrupt each other to express their views. Sensing types perceive the facts and can easily organize their thought for communication to the other team members. Intuitives tend to develop more complex ideas that are more difficult to communicate. Thinking types are prone to making quick judgments and immediately verbalizing their thoughts while feeling types may not express their true thoughts in order to avoid hurting someoneís feelings.

Cohesion is affected most by thinking versus feeling. The thinking team members, in their haste to express their judgments, often offend the more sensitive team members. The feeling member, will be constantly aware of the esprit de corps and do what they can to maintain harmony. Cohesion does not mean the absence of conflict. A cohesive team is able to resolve conflicts in a manner that results in the synergism that makes team work valuable.

Team heterogeneity refers to the number of each personality type on the team. Each type has something positive to contribute. In fact, usually a large degree of psychological homogeneity causes problems. The homogeneous team may reach consensus faster, however, the results will not be as innovative as they will be with a more heterogeneous team. In IS development, each personality type should have roughly equal representation.

A case example

This case example of two IS development teams serves as an excellent illustration of loss of productivity due to a poor combination of personality types.

A medium-sized software development company in the Southeastern USA makes extensive use of teams in the development of IS software. Company management noticed a distinct difference in the productivity of two major teams. The two teams were given assignments of developing information systems of comparable complexity, yet team 1 took almost twice as long as team 2 in the development process and produced an IS of only moderate quality. Team 2 finished their project ahead of schedule and produced a high-quality system. Management noticed that the members of team 1 did not communicate well (misunderstandings as well as failure to communicate) and seemed to have great difficulty getting organized.

The teams were not different in terms of demographics and basic ability levels and were performing comparable tasks. Why was their performance so different? The personality-type composition of the two teams explains the differences in team performance.

Personality-type composition and team performance

In this case example, the two teams were judged to be different in their performance level. Team 2 performed at a higher level than team 1. The MBTI® types of the two groups were analyzed to identify potential differences in personality type. It is important to have diversity and balance in the personality types of various group members. Team 2 (the more successful team) was more well balanced than team 1. Team 1 had 80% introverts and 20% extroverts compared to team 2ís equal percentage of 50% of both types. In team situations, introverts often tend to keep information to themselves and are less communicative in meetings. Team 1ís large percentage of introverts may have inhibited successful intra-team communication.

Team 2 also had a better balance in the type combinations of information intake (S/N) and decision making (T/F). The combinations are particularly important to effective teams because much of a development teamís work relates to receiving and processing information to make decisions about the particular system being developed. The percentages of S versus N were comparable, with team 1 having 60% Ns and 40% Ss, while team 2 had 57% Ns and 42% Ss. Sensing types like to focus on the details and may tend to miss the larger picture. Intuitive types may love the concept of teamwork but may have difficulty putting the concept into action. They are much more comfortable envisioning the larger picture and theorizing about what the system will do than with getting busy on the details of putting the system together.

Team 1 had only had 20% Fs, while team 2 had 42% F types. The difference between thinkers and feelers can cause major problems for effective team building. Thinkers are primarily concerned with accomplishing the task, while feelers are concerned with how well people work together. This basic difference in task versus people orientation suggests that the T/F difference is among the primary influences on a teamís esprit de corps. This suggests that a successful team is one that balances task orientation (the T type) with the feelings of group members who are accomplishing that task (F types).

A major reason for team 1ís lack of success could have been caused by the preponderance of Ts who pushed ahead to complete the task while giving less attention to user needs as well as the needs of other F types on the team. Team 2ís high percentage of F types could have facilitated more attention being given to the needs and the feelings of other team members.

Some team members prefer to approach problem solving in an orderly, systematic manner while others prefer less structured approaches. Team members with opposing preferences will have great difficulty avoiding conflicts in their communications. The T types would be focused on getting the specific jobs done, while the F types would be more concerned with group harmony, which could cause problems in deciding how to proceed on the project. Team 1, which was composed of a large percentage of T types, may have raced ahead to get jobs done without everyone being on board, while team 2ís larger percentage of F types may have helped them focus more attention on group harmony.

Team 1 had a better balance of J and P types (70% J, 30% P) than team 2 (100% J). However, too much diversity may actually inhibit successful team performance. The J/P difference, at least on the surface, is the key to team success or failure. Js have a need for closure, to move on to other important objectives, while Ps have an unceasing need to consider other alternatives and to make seat-of-the-pants assessments. Too many Js could influence the rush to stay on schedule and they might not carefully consider all of the potential alternatives. In contrast, Ps have difficulty staying on schedule because they are taking so much time to consider all the alternatives. In a complex project that has many alternatives to consider that would slow down the decision-making process, as long as team 2 considered all of the alternatives carefully, they would probably be more apt to stay on schedule than team 1.

Leadership is an important component of JAD teams. In the case example, the unsuccessful teamís (team 1) leader was an INFP type, while the successful teamís (team 2) leader was an ESFJ. Team 1ís introvert leader may have withheld information and sought to shorten meetings because being with people drains an introvertís energy. Team 2ís extrovert leader may have been more effective in stimulating group communication and in involving all group members in the process. Team 1ís intuitive (N) leader may have been in favor of the team concept, but unable to transfer that support into action. In contrast, team 2ís sensing (S) leader may have been more effective in keeping the group on task. Team 1ís feeling (F) type leader may have clashed with the large percentage of group members who were thinkers (Ts). This F leader may have been focusing more attention on group harmony rather than getting the job done, which could have frustrated the T types. In contrast, while team 2ís leader is also an F type, there were a larger percentage of F types on the team who could offer support for the leader in emphasizing group harmony as an important factor. Team 1ís leader was a perceiver (P), a person who has difficulty in obtaining closure on important issues to move on to other important tasks. Team 2ís leader was a judger (J), which was consistent with the other team members.

Team 1ís large percentage of introverts, thinkers and perceivers may have resulted in less-effective group communication, while team 2ís large percentage of extroverts, feeling types and judgers may have facilitated group communication.

Team composition of personality types does appear to be an important explanatory variable for differences in team performance. This case example suggests that in general, diversity and balance in team member personality types is needed to produce successful team performance. Team 2ís greater balance of extroverts and introverts, sensing types and intuitive types, and thinking and feeling types appears to have influenced successful team performance. Team 2ís large percentage of judging types also ensured that the project was completed in a timely manner.

Conclusion and recommendations

The case example of IS development teams presented here suggests that personality types are an important factor in successful team performance. Organizations that desire to develop effective teams need to analyze the personality-type compositions of these groups and help team members understand their own personal attributes as well as appreciate the contribution of the other team members. The model presented in this paper is a valuable tool in accomplishing this analysis.

Consider the following questions in analyzing teams using the MBTI®:
  1. Does the team have the best types of people to get the job done? The type of job being done should have some influence on the types of people who are selected to be on a team. For complex tasks such as product development, a balanced team of opposing personality types is needed. The more complex the task, the more important the balance is.

  2. Are the right jobs within the team being done by the most effective types of people? Is the personality type of each team member compatible with the requirement of the area of responsibility? Are they using their abilities most effectively by being in the place where their contribution will make a difference? In a team situation, the team leader is very important. Personality type should be considered strongly when choosing the team leader. Team leaders should demon strate the personality-type preferences that enable them to involve others in team communication, to be sensitive to the needs of all team members, and to keep the team on schedule to complete the task.

  3. How will the team evaluate progress towards its goal? This question suggests a balanced diversity of all types on the team, particularly judgers, perceivers, feelers, and introverts. Judgers help keep the team on schedule, while perceivers ensure that multiple options are considered before proceeding ahead. Feelers ensure that someoneís idea is not dismissed out of hand and that group harmony is considered in making decisions. Introverts are needed to offer internal reflection of what items are being communicated orally in a meeting. They need time to think through what has been discussed and to give their opinions before decisions are made.

  4. Is there a team type that can effectively determine when the project is completed? When should development stop and implementation begin? Such personality types as extroverts, intuitives and judgers are particularly helpful in answering this question. Extroverts prefer to get issues out in the open so they can be discussed and resolved. Intuitives provide a holistic view of the entire organization and provide their perceptive assessment of whether the system is doing what it was intended to do. Judgers help keep everyone on track and offer their assessment of whether the task has been completed.
This model offers important insights into the influence of personality-type composition on team performance. It is important for the manager to remember that the MBTI® measures preferences. Individuals can adopt other personality types if they are aware of personality-type differences and make a concerted effort to change. However, these individuals will need to be monitored very carefully.

Team performance is at least partially related to the teamís personality-type composition and the previous case example illustrates this relationship and serves as a reminder to managers to consider carefully personality type in determining team composition.

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