Personality Traits That Inspire the Most Teamwork

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A customer service leader recently confided in me that she was having a difficult time hiring new employees.

Sure the job market is really tight right now, but there was an additional challenge with her company's hiring process. The HR department used a pre-hire personality assessment to screen all applicants. Each applicants' results were compared to an "ideal" profile for the job that was supplied by the assessment company.

As an experiment, the leader had her existing employees take the assessment. She was surprised to find that very few of her current employees fit within the assessment company's ideal profile. This meant some of her best employees never would have been hired if HR had been using the assessment then.

A few months ago, I wrote about the danger of using personality assessments to screen job candidates. The bottom line is they are often a poor predictor of success.

So how do you build a cohesive team?

I've uncovered some research that identifies what traits make a team successful. You might be surprised to learn that individual intelligence and talent did not make the list. 

Here's what did.

A confident team of professionals.

Social Sensitivity

A study from Anita Williams Woolley, Christopher F. Chabris, Alex Pentland, Nada Hashmi, and Thomas W. Malone found that individual intelligence did not correlate well with team performance. What did matter in their experiments was social sensitivity.

Here's a helpful definition of social sensitivity from, which is a website for psychology students.

Social sensitivity describes the proficiency at which an individual can identify, perceive, and understand cues and contexts in social interactions along with being socially respectful to others. 

I recently wrote about the exceptional service culture at the USS Midway Museum in San Diego. In retrospect, part of the museum’s hiring process is screening for social sensitivity.

  • Prospective applicants check in with an employee named Gary at the visitor center. How people treat Gary and interact with him is an important part of the interview process.

  • Lianne Morton, the museum's HR director, likes to walk people out after the interview. People tend to let down their guard during that brief conversation, giving Morton a glimpse of their true personality.

Other customer service leaders invite applicants to sit down with a few of their potential coworkers for an informal conversation about the work environment. It's a mini-test of how the candidate will contribute to the team dynamics.

Managers can also promote greater social sensitivity among their existing employees.


There's something reassuring about working with someone whose word is bond. If they say they'll get something done, they do it, and do it well. You can trust someone who is dependable.

A study from Google found five dynamics that were shared among its highest performing teams. The top dynamic was psychological safety, where team members can do their best work and even take risks without fear. One of the best ways to create this type of environment is to stack the team with socially sensitive members (see above).

Dependability was the number two dynamic shared among Google’s highest performing teams.

I recently wrote about the reasons why some employees are always late. When I talk to customer service leaders, chronic absenteeism and tardiness is frequently a top challenge. 

There are a number of ways to screen job applicants for dependability.

One company I worked with had an office that was difficult to find. Whenever a manager called an applicant to schedule an in-person interview, the manager deliberately avoided mentioning directions to the office. Successful applicants either asked for directions (which were readily provided upon request), or they were resourceful enough to find their way to the office in time for their interview.

People who arrived late because they got stuck in traffic, couldn't find parking, couldn't find the office, or generally didn't anticipate the difficulty of getting there were not considered for the job.

You can also screen applicants for dependability by checking references. Ask former bosses and coworkers to describe the employees' work habits or scan their LinkedIn recommendations. You'll often see indicators of a person's dependability.

Another company gives applicants a small assignment and a short deadline. Applicants who turn in quality work by the deadline demonstrate their dependability, while applicants who can't make it in time or don't produce a quality project are not considered.

Finally, managers need to be a bit tough about dependability. 

Employees who are allowed to be chronically late to work, or are frequently given extensions on work deadlines can develop bad habits quickly. Starting meetings late to accommodate people who don't show up on time tells people that showing up on time doesn't matter.

Like so many traits, you need to demonstrate dependability as a leader if you want your employees to do the same thing.


Here are all five dynamics of successful teams from Google's study:

  1. Psychological Safety

  2. Dependability

  3. Structure & Clarity

  4. Meaning of Work

  5. Impact of Work

We've already covered numbers one and two. The remaining three all boil down to having a clear purpose at work. You can instill a sense of purpose among your team members through a clear and compelling customer service vision.

A customer service vision is a shared definition of outstanding customer service that gets everyone on the same page. 

  • It provides clarity about what everyone is working towards, 

  • instills a sense of meaning in the work we do each day, 

  • and helps us understand the impact we are having on our customers.

I detail a process for creating a customer service vision, getting your employees engaged, and aligning work around your purpose in The Service Culture Handbook.

Here's an overview of the main steps:

  1. How to write a customer service vision statement

  2. Three questions that get to the heart of employee engagement

  3. Customer service alignment assessment

Not coincidentally, creating a customer service vision statement makes an outstanding team building exercise!


Customer service leaders often focus too much on the individual.

They place job ads looking for "rockstar" employees. Incentives are created for individual performance. Employees are given individual scorecards and top achievers are recognized. 

Yet customer service is often a team effort. So if you want better teamwork, it's important to carefully consider how you build your team.