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 Get Coworkers to Step-up Their Service

A question I often receive from customer service professionals is "How do I get my coworkers to improve their service?

It can be frustrating to feel like you are giving it your all while colleague settle for mediocrity (or worse).

Getting your peers to change is tricky. Approach a colleague the wrong way and you risk harming the relationship. Do nothing at all and things will likely stay the same.

That doesn't mean you are powerless. Here are three strategies you can try.

Image source: BigStockPhoto

Image source: BigStockPhoto

Be the Model

"Who was it?!" the woman demanded. "Who is making us look bad?!"

I was facilitating a customer service workshop and was sharing the results of a secret shopping test I had conducted the night before. Four out of five employees I had shopped didn't use any of the company's service standards in my interaction.

This particular employee was incensed. She wanted to know who it was because she felt embarrassed to get such a poor report.

Sadly, she was one of the four people who I had visited who performed poorly. She didn't recognize me because she was too busy chatting with a coworker when I had been her customer the night before.

If you want your coworkers to improve, start by taking a long, hard, figurative look in the mirror.

You can't expect your colleagues to step up their collective game if you aren't doing the same thing. This means you need to be the model of outstanding customer service.

Aside from giving you more credibility with your peers, it’s inspiring to others when they see someone else going the extra mile. It creates subtle but powerful positive peer pressure for them to serve at a higher level.


Identify Shared Challenges

High performing teams work together to solve problems.

For example, a Tier 2 technical support team handled issues that were beyond the scope of expertise for the Tier 1 team. One problem was Tier 1 reps often unnecessarily transferred calls to the Tier 2 team that they should have resolved on their own.

Rather than build silos and cast blame, members of both teams met to identify the top reasons calls were transferred and then mark which ones could be prevented. A Tier 2 rep then put together a job aid that showed Tier 1 reps how to handle those issues on their own.

This approach solved a problem, but it also fostered a sense of teamwork between members of both teams.

Another opportunity is to share common issues with your boss.

Many employees assume that bosses are apathetic toward poor service if they don't take any action to correct it. My research indicates there might be another reason: most employees don’t pass along customer complaints!

The idea isn't to tattle on your coworkers. 

The point is to tell your boss about the top customer complaints you hear, along with some ideas or suggestions for improvement. It might be a policy that customers don't like or a common product defect.

Whatever it is, sharing customer insight with your boss may give him or her needed information to enlist the entire team in taking action.


Ask For Advice

One customer service professional, we'll call him David, wrote to me and explained that he was 26 and had just a few years of experience. He explained that he was the youngest person on his team, and most of his peers were 40 years old or older.

My suggestion to David was to approach his more experienced colleagues and ask them for advice on handling a particular customer service challenge.

Why? Two reasons.

First, asking a coworker for advice is a sign of respect. It shows them you value their wisdom and experience. And that respect makes them more likely to respect you back.

Second, it's human nature that we are our own most credible source of information. If I ask you for a suggestion on handling a particular situation, you'll probably give me a good answer but you'll also be more likely to remember to take your own advice the next time.



In many of the organizations I wrote about in The Service Culture Handbook, leaders cultivate a culture of positive peer pressure. 

Coworkers recognize each other for great performance. They cover for each other without question, which creates a social need for reciprocity (I've got your back, you've got mine). Veteran employees guide new hires to help them succeed too.

You can do your part by trying some of the techniques outlined above. Here's one more bonus technique:

Take a moment to recognize a coworker for doing something well.

Chances are, they'll appreciate you letting them know their contributions are valued. They'll be more likely to do it again. And, there's a chance they'll be a bit more receptive when you have some constructive feedback to share!