Business Chemistry Featured in Harvard Business Review Spotlight on the New Science of Teamwork

1417 MarApr17 Cover_CMYK.inddPioneers, Drivers, Integrators, and Guardians

Every team is a mix of these personality types. Here’s how to get the best out of any combination.

by Suzanne M. Johnson Vickberg and Kim Christfort

Published in Harvard Business Review, March/April, 2017

Organizations aren’t getting the performance they need from their teams. That’s the message we hear from many of our clients, who wrestle with complex challenges ranging from strategic planning to change management. But often, the fault doesn’t lie with the team members, our research suggests. Rather, it’s often leaders who fail to effectively tap diverse work styles and perspectives—even at the senior-most levels. Business Chemistry can help.

A first step is to identify the work styles of your team members and begin to consider how similarities and differences are beneficial or problematic. How many detail-oriented Guardians do you have versus big picture Pioneers? What’s the balance of competitive Drivers with consensus-oriented Integrators? How are these diverse styles complementing or conflicting with one another?

Next, it’s time to actively manage those similarities and differences. Read our full article in Harvard Business Review for more detail on these strategies for doing so.

  • Pull your opposites closer. Often, the biggest pain points are in one-on-one relationships, when opposite styles collide. By pulling your opposites closer—having them work together on small projects, and then bigger ones if it’s working out—you can begin to create complementary partnerships on your teams. It’s also important to pull your own opposites closer to you, to balance your tendencies as a leader.
  • Elevate the “tokens” on your team. When a team’s makeup is lopsided, cognitive bias can creep in, often leading to “cascades” or momentum that carries the team in the direction of the most common viewpoint. Your goal here should be to elevate minority perspectives on the team without turning others off. This way you can benefit from all the perspectives represented, not just those in the majority.
  • Pay close attention to your sensitive introverts. While a cascading team may lose out on contributions from any style that’s in the minority, members who are most introverted or sensitive can be at greatest risk of being drowned out. So that you don’t lose out on the unique strengths brought by these types, make an effort to understand how the team’s ways of working are supporting them to make their best contribution, or not.

Dr. Suz

Suzanne Vickberg, PhD (aka Dr. Suz)

Dr. Suz is the Greenhouse Team’s very own social-personality psychologist, which means she studies how people’s thoughts, behaviors and preferences are influenced by both who they are and the situations they’re in. She uses Business Chemistry to help teams explore how the mix of perspectives brought by their individual members influences their work together. Follow her on Twitter @DrSuzBizChem


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Six Workplace Trends to Watch in 2017

With the arrival of 2017, we’ve been spending time sizing up some of the many important developments, issues and trends in the workplace. And let us tell you: from tools, to employee experience, to team dynamics, workplace habits are a-changing. Teams are on the rise, the next generation of leaders are reshaping their work environments as I write, and the employer-employee contract continues to actively evolve.

Our analysis included published research findings, our own experience consulting to client companies, and ongoing monitoring of corporate commitments and published policies….With a bit of clairvoyance mixed in!

Color us *unsurprised* that Business Chemistry’s value had rarely been clearer. Continue reading “Six Workplace Trends to Watch in 2017”

Creating a psychological safety net for your team

“Can you describe a time when you were on a team that was really successful?”

That’s more than just a leading question in a job interview. Answering that prompt can begin to give us clues into why some team experiences–and outcomes–are just better.

I bet you could probably list some of the characteristics that define the highest performing teams—things like goal focus, dependability, and complementary skills.

But what if the key to high team performance is something far more basic and subtle?

Newer research1 suggests that what distinguishes top teams is actually “psychological safety.” Said another way, we do our best work when we feel safe enough to take risks and contribute without holding back. And in a truly psychologically safe work climate, people aren’t just comfortable expressing themselves, they’re comfortable being themselves—complete with quirks and peccadillos. It’s also important to consider what we’re *not* doing on a team we deem safe. Harvard business professor Amy Edmondson describes psychologically safe teams as ones where “people are less likely to focus on self-protection.”

When we’re not constantly calculating whether we’ll lose face by taking a risk, we can more easily lean into our desire to engage with others and to learn. Research1 supports that a psychologically safe team leads to better overall engagement and an openness to learning. Indeed, the safer team members feel with one another, the more likely they are to admit mistakes, to partner, and to take on new roles3.

So how could your team start to build more safety, interpersonally speaking?

Continue reading “Creating a psychological safety net for your team”

How to plan a meeting that people won’t dread

Planning a meeting that people won't dread My closest teammates sometimes tease me about the time they found me standing in a corner with my headphones on, while a sea of people socialized around me. We were two days into a three-day series of meetings with about 100 of our colleagues, and my extrovert side had totally given up the ghost. I’m a Guardian and a Dreamer (a combination of internally-focused types) who works primarily from home, and I’m not used to quite so much togetherness. You might wonder why I didn’t just take a little bit of alone time. The short answer is, I didn’t want to miss out on anything! What can I say, people are complicated.

A few weeks ago it was time again for these annual meetings, and I looked forward to the event with equal measures of excitement and dread. Among the many things our team does well is engage people, and I knew the event would be valuable and fun. But I also knew that sometimes I need a chance to disengage, or at least to engage differently. And that can be hard to do at these kinds of things. Which raises the question, how can you plan a meeting or event that meets the needs of everyone participating, when the needs of everyone aren’t the same? When people have conflicting needs, how do you appeal to all types without turning anyone off? And how can you do so while delivering an exceptional experience rather than one that feels watered down?

Continue reading “How to plan a meeting that people won’t dread”

Who are you when you’re stressed?

Who are you when you're stressed?Last week was really stressful for me. I’m in the midst of several writing projects at once, nothing I would recommend, and it seemed there was also a hurricane blowing, full of other responsibilities, inquiries, requests, and demands swirling around me. You probably know how that feels.

So what did I do? I hunkered down, and spent several hours organizing my calendar–obviously–one of the more Guardian-like tasks a person can engage in. Because that’s what I do when I’m stressed.

And how about you? When you’re stressed, what do you do? Do your typical behaviors intensify? Or do you tend to act a bit out of character? Do you think your Business Chemistry type changes? Or does it get more extreme? We’re often asked by our clients just these questions. So we set out to answer them.

We asked people to complete our Business Chemistry assessment while imagining they were under stress, and 111 people did just that. Specifically, we asked people to “respond to each item as if you’re in the midst of a very stressful time. You might think back to a specific stressful time you’ve actually experienced, imagine a stressful time, or just focus in on the feeling of being under stress in general.” We then compared people’s stressed results to their original Business Chemistry results, to see if they were different.

The majority of respondents (70 percent) indicated they had recalled a specific stressful time they’d actually experienced, while 23 percent thought about being under stress in general, and just 7 percent imagined a specific stressful experience. Most respondents indicated they were thinking about looming deadlines and time pressure, critical and high profile projects involving clients and/or leadership, the need for multi-tasking, and/or a heavy work-load. In other words, they were thinking about the typical day at work for most of us.

In short, we found no evidence that any of the Business Chemistry types intensify under stress, but we did find evidence of changes in people’s behaviors and preferences.

Continue reading “Who are you when you’re stressed?”

Project stalled? Practice perspective-taking

How to Encourage Perspective-Taking Skills

Unclear objectives. Scope creep. Cost overruns. Many of the reasons that projects fail seem painfully obvious. And yet there’s a less noticeable offender that can lead teams to take rash shortcuts, ignore the facts, or worse, mistake their overconfidence for boldness.

I’m talking about our failure to actively seek out and consider perspectives different from our own.

You might have guessed that perspective-taking is something we promote enthusiastically in Business Chemistry. After all, minimal variation of thought can lead to groupthink…which can steer a team right into a place of dysfunctional conformity. And we’re not only talking about encouraging people to exchange perspectives; but about using targeted strategies to do so. Academic research supports this recommendation: perspective-taking has been shown to simultaneously improve creativity1 and reduce favoritism within a team2. And beyond fostering more cooperative workplace behaviors3, taking others’ perspectives into account has been linked to better team coordination4 and improved conflict management5.

Continue reading “Project stalled? Practice perspective-taking”

Going with the flow: Cascades can hinder team decision-making

My last post suggested that making decisions in diverse teams can help avoid decision-making traps, and there’s research evidence to support this view1. However, team decisions are often no better than individual decisions—and sometimes they’re even worse2. So what’s going on?

Essentially it has to do with the difference between having diversity on a team and managing the team environment and process in a way that enables the group to actually benefit from that diversity.

There are various mechanisms through which biases and poor decision-making can actually be heightened rather than diminished on a team, even a diverse one.

Continue reading “Going with the flow: Cascades can hinder team decision-making”

It’s a Trap! Avert decision-making biases with Business Chemistry


I recently wrote about how to recognize each of the Business Chemistry types, with their approach to decision-making being among the clues that can help.

Each of these is a reasonable way to approach decisions–there is no right way. And combining these approaches–making decisions in a diverse team–can be a great way to combat some of the cognitive biases, or decision-making traps, that sometimes lead us to make faulty decisions.

Continue reading “It’s a Trap! Avert decision-making biases with Business Chemistry”

The Power of Opposites

The Power of Opposites

If given the choice, would you work with someone who’s similar to you and shares your views? Or would you choose someone who’s quite dissimilar, and has a different perspective?

Research suggests that we make better decisions in diverse groups than in homogeneous ones, but that we feel less confident in those decisions1. Why? Maybe because making decisions with people similar to us feels easy; if we’re all on the same page from the start it must be the right page, mustn’t it? The overconfidence that we’re prone to individually, gets multiplied in homogeneous groups.

Continue reading “The Power of Opposites”