The characteristics of successful teams | SEI - Swiss Engineering Institute
The characteristics of successful teams
July 25, 2018
By SEI Redaktion


The characteristics of successful teams

On VUCA: "We live in a world", says Waltraud Gläser, "that is constantly changing, becoming more unstable and in which small and big changes are becoming more unpredictable – and ever more drastic and ever faster."

For this reason, the organizational developer states that cause and effect often cannot be understood, which is what the term "Volatility" stands for.

Predictability dwindles

Gläser also describes the three other aspects of the VUCA world in a coherent way.1 Regarding "Uncertainty", she states: "It's becoming less and less clear where we're going." It is becoming more difficult to plan "investments, developments and growth", and "forecasts and experiences from the past as a basis for shaping the future are losing their validity and relevance."

"Complexity" is an additional factor. Cause and effect often cannot be clearly identified. Gläser states: "Decisions become an uncontrollable web of reaction and counter-reaction." It is now virtually impossible "to choose the one right way".

"Grey" instead of "black" and "white"

And "Ambiguity"? Ambiguity is reflected in companies when a situation cannot be "clearly or precisely determined". In addition to "black" and "white", "grey" would often be an option for successful teams … As a consequence, according to the organizational developer, "the 'what' recedes behind the 'why' and the 'how?' Decisions require courage, awareness and a willingness to make mistakes."

Against the background of these radical changes, in 2016 the "SEI Swiss Engineering Institute" published a study.2  The subject: Successful teamwork. The authors identify "11 factors in successful cooperation", at the levels of "organization", "teams" and the "individual".

Heterogeneity is trumps!

The study describes the structure for successful teams.

"In complex and innovative tasks, a team is particularly effective if the team members are heterogeneous in terms of their skills and knowledge and thus optimally complement each other."

The term "interdisciplinary team" already encompasses the demand for professional heterogeneity. What is important to remember is that this diversity must under no circumstances be so great that "the team can no longer find a common language or understanding".

"Heterogeneity" is a dazzling term. It can also refer to the basic mental structures that exist in an interdisciplinary team. Those who pay adequate attention to heterogeneity can achieve successful cooperation, supported by intrinsic and extrinsic motivation.

Journey to antiquity

Psychology draws on old concepts, such as its teachings on temperament taken from ancient humoral pathology. It can be integrated into modern personality psychology models, because the four temperaments can be used to characterize basic features that can be observed in many people. The typology is well-known: sanguine, phlegmatic, choleric and melancholic. Naturally, each person displays characteristics from each of these four character types, but depending on the situation and role, one type will stand out in particular. What does this mean for successful teamwork in the VUCA world?

Sanguine (enthusiastic): They easily get enthusiastic about one particular thing and are able to enthuse others about it. A sanguine person usually seems optimistic, creative and visionary. But they need to not always allow themselves to be completely carried away by ideas, remain realistic, and not throw in the towel if problems arise.

Do not beat a retreat

Phlegmatic (integrationist): They are able to develop a high degree of empathy. Harmony is important to them, they are helpful, cooperative and team-oriented. But they should learn to express their own opinions. If problems arise, they need to allow others to help them – and not beat a retreat.

Melancholic (perfectionist): They think intensively about their actions, and then proceed carefully and in a disciplined manner. Decisions are not taken until all aspects of a problem have been considered. But the perfectionist needs to learn that not all processes in life can be planned. Simultaneously, they need to accept that people are imperfect. If difficulties arise, the perfectionist should not lose sight of the goal, even if they feel they are drowning in details.

Act in a goal-oriented manner

Choleric (assertive): Their strength lies in goal-oriented and energetic action. They make rapid progress – and challenge their colleagues. But an assertive person should be more patient and listen more closely to colleagues. In this way, other people's ideas are likely to influence and inspire their own actions. If a problem arises, an assertive person should not immediately attempt to resolve it.

This modern interpretation of ancient temperaments shows the following: The VUCA world needs interdisciplinary teams that are also heterogeneous at the individual level. Naturally, this also creates friction, when for example the choleric person wants to jump into action, and the melancholic person steps on the brakes. But the high breakthrough potential of interdisciplinary teams lies in balancing these diverse polarities. In this way they are better prepared for a VUCA world that, depending on the situation, requires a different mixture of skill and temperament.

Post-heroic managers

But only if bosses take to heart an insight formulated by the philosopher Charles Handy: "The heroic manager of the past knew everything, could do everything, and solved every problem. The post-heroic manager asks themselves how a problem can be solved in such a way that other people's abilities develop, so that they, too, are able to handle this problem well."

1 Gläser, Waltraud (2018): "VUCA Welt", in: date: 06.07.2018

2 Hirche, Lara / Kurmann, David / Pallmann, Christina (2016): "Collaboration Index - Successful collaboration between specialists", "SEI Swiss Engineering Institute", Zurich, Munich

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