The Role of Team Composition in High Performance Teams

March 29, 2022

Team Composition

The corporate world has a habit of hiring individual rock stars. But, as the old saying goes - there’s no I in team

Which means that if you want to develop high performance teams, your managers will need to look beyond individual talent, and understand the makeup of their team.

More specifically, they will need to understand the strengths, weaknesses, and drivers of each individual team member, so that they can make decisions that increase the team's collective intelligence, and ultimately drive better performance outcomes. 

In other words, they need to take a long hard look at their team's composition. 

But what exactly is team composition? 

In this article, we'll answer that and more. In fact, we'll cover:

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What is team composition? 

Team composition refers to the overall configuration of a team’s members. It means putting together the right individuals with the relevant skill sets and expertise, to not only help a team accomplish its goals, but to also maximize the team’s overall effectiveness. 

According to Enhancing the Effectiveness of Team Science, team composition is essential to ensuring high performance teams. Who is in the team is a key enabling condition for effective team work. 

When composing teams, managers need to consider the contribution that each individual member can make to the team’s overall success. They may have accumulated a group of outstanding individuals, aka rock stars, but if these rock stars can’t work together to produce exemplary work, the team's performance will suffer.

So, what do managers need to consider when it comes to team composition?

Five aspects of team composition

High performing teams are composed of individuals, not just with relevant expertise, but people with specific characteristics and traits that enable the team to flourish. 

But to improve overall team effectiveness, you need ensure your managers understand these five aspects of team composition:

1. Roles within the team

For teams to thrive, each individual team member should have complete clarity over what they're supposed to be doing, and how their efforts contribute towards the bigger picture. 

Something that is only possible with clearly defined roles and responsibilities.

In fact, not only does this help prevent important things from falling through the gaps, but it also enables everyone in the team to understand how they each contribute to the team's overall success, in turn increasing team morale, productivity, and engagement. 

"Collaboration improves when individual roles are clearly defined and well understand, and when individuals feel their role is bound in ways that allow them to work independently". Tammy Erickson

2. Abilities within the team

High performing teams often consist of a group of individuals with different abilities. In other words, different skills and knowledge. 

Only once a manager understands the skills and knowledge within their team, can they make informative decisions. Decisions such as which roles and responsibilities to assign within their team. 

Here's the thing though - all too often, managers only look at the skills of each individual team member. 

Sure, this insight is important for understanding:

  • Which projects each team member is best suited to
  • How they can support each employee's career development goals
  • The learning and development opportunities each employee needs
  • How best to coach and manage them

But it's not enough. 

In addition to understanding the abilities of each individual team member, managers also need to be looking at the collective abilities of the team.

Why?

Because this insight helps them identify:

  • Where the gaps are that are preventing the team from executing on the business strategy
  • Where the possibilities are to upskill or reskill team members
  • Any blind spots preventing digital transformation within the organization

3. Personalities within the team

Personality plays a huge part in team success - employees work better when the organization caters to their strengths. Plus, in a high performing team managers need people who get along with one another, who can work together, and want to pull together to achieve the common aim.

Which means that when they're composing and developing their team, your managers need to be considering team dynamics.

After all, "rockstars" may work well on their own, but if they're arrogant or dominant it can prevent them from being a good team player. And the best work happens in teams.

In fact, Koslowski and Bell found that teams made up of individuals with higher levels of conscientiousness resulted in an overall higher team conscientiousness

Why is this important?

Because conscientiousness is related to team performance. The more conscientious team members are, the more they can be depended on, the more organized and productive they are, and the more likely they will be to consider the consequences of their decisions, which in turn helps them develop critical-thinking  and problem-solving skills. 

4. Team diversity

Team diversity doesn’t simply refer to a team’s demographics. It also refers to physical locations, status, seniority, nationality, cultural norms, personality, values, motivations, individual knowledge, and expertise. 

So, why does this matter?

Well research conducted by Stvilia et al found that when teams were composed of highly diverse disciplines, rather than just experts in a particular field, they were able to improve scientific outcomes

Now while this particular study was focused on science outcomes, the findings hold true for corporate teams too.

Which means that managers should be embracing and nurturing the diversity in their teams, by being an inclusive leader. 

How?

Start by encouraging them to work with their team to establish team norms, and to consider laying down ground rules for team meetings.

5. Team size

Jeff Bezos famously holds two pizza meetings, meaning, if there are more people in the meeting than two pizzas would feed, there are too many people in attendance. 

The same approach should be adopted with team composition. 

While numbers in a team will vary according to the task in hand, generally speaking, the most effective teams have 10 or fewer members - too many cooks spoil the broth etc. 

As a guide, managers might consider compiling large teams for a project, whereas they should aim for smaller teams for smaller, productivity tasks. 

Saying that, the most important element of a team is ability. After all, it really doesn’t matter how big or small the team is if the people in it can’t deliver results. 

The impact of team composition on psychological safety

While psychological safety isn’t directly linked to team composition, it is definitely a positive outcome. When teams comprise all five aspects of team composition, it creates a bridge across the various diverse elements of the team, connecting them all together. 

And when diversity is harnessed within a team, research shows that it leads to greater innovation and higher team performance.

How to determine team composition

One of the most effective ways managers can determine team composition is through the use of a psychometric profiling tool.

In fact, over 80% of US Fortune 500 companies use this type of tool, and for good reason:

  • They allow managers to understand each team member's character and skillset, without deeming their ability right or wrong.
  • They highlight each team member's strengths, personality, motivations, and interests, allowing managers to help them perform their role more effectively, understand their preferred style of working, and be guided in having the right conversations.
  • They help businesses use their people in the best way, creating a streamlined, optimized team.

In addition to using this insight to make the best decisions for the team, managers should also be leading regular retrospectives with their team to reflect on what is and isn't working within the team. Not sure where to start? We've put together some examples and guidance for running them here, for you to share with your managers.

That's not where team reflection should end though. In fact, it's also important that both HR and leadership are checking on each team's health, by running periodic team health checks.

With a tool like Saberr, you can do this in two ways. To start with, you can run an Organization-wide pulse survey that will provide you with a team-by-team heatmap, allowing you to compare just how good of a job each team is doing at developing the habits needed for high performance. It also helps pinpoint the teams that require support.

Alternatively, you can work with your managers to run a health check on a specific team, which provides a deeper dive team diagnostic.

How Saberr can help build effective teams

In order to make the right decisions for their team, it is crucial that managers have a solid understanding of their team's makeup. In other words, their team's composition.

But if they want to develop high performing teams, managers need to also be considering a whole host of other factors including, but certainly not limited to, the team's goals, the team's purpose, their own behaviors as a manager, the feedback they provide, and how the team's performance is being managed. 

Saberr supports all of this and more. 

If you'd like to learn more about how we do this, have a watch of this. Alternatively, you can book in for a chat at a time that suits you. 

Still need further guidance? Why not complete our team type survey and receive a free report with recommendations to improve the performance of your teams.

14 types of team meetings

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