Do we always perform better together? Teamwork and collaboration are critical in today’s organizations, and there’s a firm belief that “united we stand” enhances our competitive edge. But just throwing people in a room together isn’t going to get us very far; or at least, it doesn’t guarantee we’ll maximize our potential.

In a way, teamwork is like baking a cake. We need to understand the role of each ingredient so we can appreciate how it contributes to a beautiful finished product. This awareness helps us enhance our dynamics so that we can complement, rather than clash—and achieve more than we expected.

According to the Sphere of Influence, there are four broad ways that individuals tend to add value in team situations. We’ll take team as an example.

Introducing the Team

Our team of four is ideal in one sense. They’re a diverse team with different strengths, skills, and experiences. Together, they’re prime ‘ingredients’ for an effective team with high collective intelligence. When they get together for a project…

Olivia tends to focus on their outcomes. Her colleagues would describe her as an “eyes on the prize” kind of person, and it’s very easy for her to take the lead. She’ll take control if the situation calls for it because, with her ‘Outcome‘ style, Olivia can really get things done.

Colin‘s also a natural leader. Compared to Olivia, though, you’ll more likely find him inspiring rather than driving others. He’s attentive to the relationship dynamics in their team and loves co-creating his teammates to reach their shared goals. Accordingly, his style is best described as ‘Co-create‘.

Like Colin, Tina is very much a team player. However, leadership either doesn’t come naturally to her, or it’s just not her cup of tea. Her style is ‘Togetherness‘ because she’s attuned to the relationships that keep the team working smoothly.

You won’t often find Quentin taking the lead in a team situation, either, but he has a very sharp eye for detail. The others would describe him as docile, and he’s typically quite focused on the quality of their work. Quentin is astute and tends to pick up on where and how things could be further enhanced—he’s in the Sphere of Influence’s ‘Quality’ quadrant.

Clashing: A Failed Cake

We can’t always pick our colleagues, but understanding how we interact is a real advantage. If our team of four don’t have this knowledge, they won’t know how to communicate adaptively, and things could go quite unproductively.

Outcome-focused Olivia could easily be seen as unpleasantly imposing by her colleagues. Without self-awareness of her tendencies, she might even actively seek out conflict or boss the others around. Colin might just as easily come across as vague; his attempts to co-create might fall on deaf ears as everyone focuses on their own agenda. In a worst-case scenario, he might end up working solo on co-creation projects that failed to gain traction with the others. 

Tina and Quentin, both unaccustomed (or uninclined) to showing leadership, could both feel like they’re not being heard. This could incite quite a real feeling of detachment in Tina, who values Togetherness. Her attempts to mediate or bring back cohesion to the group might fall by the wayside. Finally, Quentin might be seen as a bit of a stick-in-the-mud with his objections, emphasis on quality, and interjections of “that’s not possible…

Bringing back the cake metaphors, it’s unproductive like a sponge with excess baking powder or a soufflé with not enough air. Ingredients cost money and everybody’s invested time and energy, but nobody’s considered how the ingredients complement or work best together. In a word, unproductive.

Complementing: Delicious Cake

What might it look like, then, when our team is armed with knowledge about their own and each other’s styles?

For a start, let’s say any one of our four comes up with an idea. Based on what we know about him, ‘Co-Create Colin’ could paint this into a bigger picture, by touching the others at an emotional level. How great would that Tiramisu be in our home delivery portfolio? Wouldn’t that be a hit for tapping into new markets?

Olivia might take responsibility for translating his vision into a clear purpose—our “Order a Tiramisu Venture”. With her outcome-focus and drive, she could easily get the whole team engaged and on board.

‘Togetherness Tina’would naturally be a great supporter of keeping everyone collectively focused. With her enthusiasm and social perceptiveness, she’d be super at smoothing group dynamics and fostering collaboration.

Quentin would be invaluable at keeping everyone on track, helping them spot and avoid “Order a Tiramisu” mistakes. His hard work ethic and quality-focus would mean the team can rely on him to intervene and clarify when anything starts to drift off course.

Knowledge of team styles is collectively beneficial. Leveraging that understanding helps us avoid others’ triggers, step back when needed, or speak up when the time is right. We can avoid assumptions like “We’re badly matched!” and the self-fulfilling prophecies they evoke by taking an adaptive approach. One which promotes synergy, and helps us avoid clashes.

Who do you relate to best in this article? Are you a Quentin? A Tina or Colin? Or do you see yourself in Olivia? I would love to hear from you!