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.

How to Make Vision Writing Your Next Team Building Exercise

Team building seems to be a hot topic right now.

I've heard from quite a few Customer Service Tip of the Week subscribers lately who are trying to create team cohesion and motivate a group of employees. They contact me to ask if I know of any good exercises or resources.

There's another group of subscribers who have also contacted me. They've heard me talking non-stop about the importance of having a customer service vision, and they're finally ready to create one. The big question is, where should they start?

My answer to both groups is the same. The ultimate customer service team building exercise is writing a customer service vision.

Facilitator leading a team building meeting.

Why Separate Initiatives Are Doomed to Fail

Many years ago, I was asked to facilitate a half-day customer service workshop to help build team cohesion. There were several leaders who were supposed to participate, but they all found various reasons not to be there. 

It still seemed like the class had gone well, until two employees approached me afterwards. Both were visibly upset and one was in tears. 

They told me they appreciated the class, but didn't believe it would change anything. It was their managers that were the problem. The organization's leaders didn't provide clear direction and often made decisions that were in direct conflict with each other. 

It was a tough conversation because I tried to be supportive, but I couldn't offer any real solutions. The people who could, the organization's leaders, had chosen not to be there.

The experience reminded me that a cohesive team is a group of people working together towards the same goal. A half-day workshop, a ropes course, or a motivational speaker might instill a temporary shot of camaraderie, but it won't fix a fundamental lack of shared vision.

And a vision can't just be something that's proclaimed by the executive team. 

I've talked to many customer service leaders recently who want to create a vision, but for some reason do not want to involve their employees. The problem with this approach is it's not a shared vision. Employees aren't really given a chance to buy-in.

This may be the top mistake service leaders make.

How Vision Writing Builds Teamwork

Think about high performing teams that you admire. 

Perhaps its a team you have been on, or one you work with. It might be a well-known company with a strong service culture. It could even be your favorite sports team.

The common thread through all of those teams is they have a shared goal that everyone is working towards. A customer service vision is a shared definition of outstanding customer service that gets everyone on the same page, so it's a team-builder by design. 

I've outlined the process I use to help companies and teams create their own unique customer service vision in this step-by-step guide. Here are some highlights that illustrate how it makes for a perfect team building activity.

Step 1: Gather Input. The first step is to gather everyone's input on what the vision should be. This allows everyone on the team to have a voice. In my experience, there are always some clear themes that emerge, which shows the team has more in common than people realize.

Step 2: Write the Vision. I've learned through trial and error that 7-10 people is the optimum group size for writing a customer service vision. Your team may be much larger than this, which is okay. What's important is those 7-10 people are a representative sample of the various roles and levels within the group. The group assembles and writes the vision statement based on the input gathered in step one, so everyone is represented even if they aren’t physically in the room.

Step 3: Socialize the Vision. Once a draft vision statement is written, you want to share it with key influencers who weren't there. The idea is to get their buy-in, or if necessary, make a few minor tweaks. (I've never had to change more than a word or two.) From there, you share the vision with the entire team and begin using it as a basis for ongoing employee engagement.

The end result, if you follow the process, is you have a shared vision that becomes the starting point for all future teamwork. Make sure everything you do is pointed towards that vision, and you'll be continuously reinforcing the team concept.

Are You Stuck?

Here are a few resources to help if you're still stuck after reading this post: