Leaders often succumb to the erroneous belief that a team’s success lies solely with its members’ skills and competence. Far too often they brush aside personality traits, giving little or no credence to the significance of personal preferences and values. Yet, an employee’s attitude decides how smoothly (and successfully) he or she merges into the team – Hire attitude and train skills! As long as the potential is there, skills can be learned.  On the other hand, leaders and team directors can expect much greater challenges when they take on a well-trained specialist who lacks an attitude compatible with the leader, other team members or corporate culture.  

A colorful blend is not always the optimal team when it comes to personality traits such as a person’s way of thinking, communicating or problem solving. Diversity seems to be the catchword of the day, referring to a variety of employee characters and not to gender, nationality, age, etc. Yet, whether a motley crew is called for or a homogenous team depends wholly on the tasks and objectives a team is expected to fulfil. Diversity for diversity’s sake is absurd, even if it is fashionable.

Essentially, when forming a new team or hiring a new team member, the choice(s) must be well-considered and based on solid arguments. Should a team’s tasks and objectives call for a variety of personality traits, the purpose of this diversity must be clear and accessible to all team members. By equipping team members with the awareness of and reasons for their dissimilarities, you open the gateways to appreciative and constructive communications. There are fewer conflicts and when they do arise they are more likely to resolve themselves.

The same is true of values. They should be a key factor from the get-go. A candidate’s values should not clash with those of your company. If cooperation and consensus is intrinsic to one, while the other embodies self-assertion and independence – both of which are fine, taken alone – these values are bound to collide.

Finally, let’s look at the difference between teamwork and collaboration. Both are aspects of working in a team. The glaring difference is that teamwork, per definition, implies there is a team captain. A team director not only has significant subject-specific expertise, but also the necessary leadership competence to lead the team. He or she must be able to give feedback and praise, to resolve conflicts, to be accessible and more. You could even say the leadership qualities have more impact on the team’s effectiveness than her or his expertise. Collaboration, on the other hand, does not entail a team director. Lacking leadership, each team member must have the maturity to assume responsibility for their actions and for resolving conflicts without mediation. Frequently, team leaders withdraw from a functioning team – assuming they can carry out business as usual in collaboration – without ensuring that the team has the maturity and independence to lead itself. Should these factors be lacking, demotivation and frustration will fill the gap left by the leader.

In the end, for the greater part, a team’s success depends on a conscious, well-considered composition of team members, on the clear decision to name or forego a team leader as well as on the well-founded choice to opt for or opt out on diversity.