What do you do if your team are all the same type?

I recently had the pleasure and privilege to speak at the Cumbria Hospices Conference. The conference theme was “Make it go away: the challenge of pain.” My contribution focused on “Managing myself to help others in pain” and I explored resilience – both what serves us all and what we might need depending on our psychological type.

In the final plenary I was asked for my view on what to do if a team predominantly shared the same psychological type. The questioner said that her senior team had done Insights and they were (unsurprisingly) strongly green and what did I recommend.

This is a good question. More and more teams are valuing the added strength and potential that comes from having a psychologically diverse team. But what do you do if you have not got that in your team?

My answer was that ‘type’ refers to a preference, a way of operating that fits the individual and which can be both energising for them and require relatively little effort. It is not a straight-jacket or the only way they can be. It’s just that other ways of operating are harder for the individual and take more energy. We can decide, individually or collectively, to step outside of our preference. We all have secondary preferences and they are available to us with effort and practice.

I am happy with my answer but the question piqued my interest. What else could the questioner and their team do?

It struck me that before deciding what to do, it was important to remember that an understanding of type gives an individual or team self-awareness and that enables choice. So for the team to know its collective preference is already an advantage.

It’s also worth reflecting on whether, or to what extent, a homogeneous team actually has a problem. If there’s a good fit with the job and organisation that is a plus. It should be valued and celebrated. Beyond that, I am curious about exactly when, or in what way, does the absence of a particular type cause difficulty. And – crucially – which gifts, abilities or habits of an absent type would help overcome that difficulty.

It’s really helpful to be specific here. As well as the broad abilities or characteristics, what are the behaviours, interventions, questions that would be useful? Knowing that, we can start to focus the extra energy that is needed and fill the gap.

And who should fill the gap? The first port of call can be anyone who does not fit the team norm. Mavericks are like gold dust. But they may need support and encouragement. They need to know that their difference is valued and benefits the team. To harness that value the team could adjust how it does business to ensure the mavericks get heard. Perhaps they will build in some ‘blue time’ or some ‘red activity’ to ensure that there is a strong process that generates energy and action.

The second resource is other team members who are able to step into another type. That may come from a secondary preference. It could draw on the deeper self-awareness and flexible self-management of more experienced or mature team members.

My final thought was simply that there is never only one way to tackle a task or meet a challenge. It’s possible, for example, to do red stuff (predominantly) the green way. If there is strong self-awareness and the team regularly reviews how it is working, it can ensure that unhelpful group-think does not inhibit progress or skew the outcome.

Ultimately ‘type’ is a tool. It’s a way of spotting and using strengths and acting to rectify gaps or weaknesses. It does not define us or capture all that we offer. Whatever our ‘type’, in a team setting that is both stretching and supporting, we can be versatile and creative and deploy our gifts to meet the most daunting challenges.

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