What makes a good team? Our experiment working with different personalities

What makes a great team? How do you hire the best team players? Instead of settling for the stereotypes, we did an experiment to see what works for us. The results surprised us!

July 9, 2021
The Remote Company team

Nowadays companies strive to hire “team players” who have “synergy” and help the team “go forward". We've all heard these buzzwords, but what do they mean in the real world for your business?

There is a ton of information in the blogosphere on how to hire the best people, what makes a good team, and how to create a work environment that gets the most out of every employee. But do these "best practices" work for every company? What does this look like, when you’re working with different personalities?

In my experience as a COO managing The Remote Company, I've noticed three major stereotypes when it comes to effective team building and team management that did not seem to apply to our team:

  1. Similar personalities make for a bad team.

  2. Extroverts dominate the work environment.

  3. Introverts are best for remote work.

Companies are unique—each full of people with varying personalities and work styles. 

To get a better understanding of how our team works best together, we decided to conduct an experiment by grouping people together based on personality test outcomes. The results were fascinating!

But first, let's take a closer look at those three stereotypes.

Three stereotypes that inspired our experiment

#1. Similar personalities make for a bad team

Scientific research has shown that we subconsciously look for points of similarity in people we meet because similarities make us feel safer. This is why we tend to hire people that remind us of ourselves. As a result, you end up having a team of similar people. 

Experts tell us that having a diversity of the right personalities results in a productive team. You need people to complement each other. Is this true for every team?

#2. Extroverts dominate the work environment

Conventional wisdom says that the modern work environment rewards extroverted behavior and it’s challenging for an introvert to be heard. Extroverts flourish in open space offices, are great leaders, participate in meetings and push their ideas.

Do extroverts really take all the attention and leave no space for others? What happens if only introverts work together? We decided to test this in our experiment!

#3. Introverts are best for remote work

You can find plenty of articles on Google with tips on how to survive working remotely if you are an extrovert. You can also find tons of articles on how bad open-plan offices are for introverts. 

So should you hire only introverts for remote positions and only extroverts if you have an open office?

introverts in open office Google search results

The experiment

Instead of settling for these stereotypes, we wanted to find out what was true for our team. Thus, we conducted an experiment.

Before our 2019 workation in the Azores, every team member took a personality test called 16Personalities to find out our team personality types. 

The test defines the personality type by:

  • Introvert or extrovert: How people interact with their surroundings

  • Observant or intuitive: How they see the world and process information

  • Thinking or feeling: How they make decisions and cope with emotions

  • Judging or prospecting: How they approach work, planning and decision-making

  • Assertive or turbulent: How confident they are in their abilities and decisions

The test results revealed that our team has 14 personality types with a mix of both introverts and extroverts. We took the opportunity to put the stereotypes to the test by creating seven groups with varying workplace personality combinations.

The teams

We created one team of people that were the same personality type ENFJ, which are known as Protagonists.

Protagonists team

According to 16Personalities, protagonists are natural-born leaders, full of passion and charisma. They makeup only 2% of the population and often become politicians, startup founders, coaches, and teachers.

Protagonists tend to inspire and influence others to achieve more and to do good in the world. They take pride in guiding others to work together to improve themselves and their community.

Could these natural-born leaders work together? Who will they lead if there are no followers?

Another team consisted entirely of introverts. We wanted to test if introverts could make decisive decisions without the help of outspoken extroverts.

The other five teams were a mix of different people.

The task

Every team had a common goal: they received $2000 that they had to spend within three days to promote MailerLite. They had to come up with an idea, spend the money and present their process and final idea. 

With just 3 days to complete the task, the teams had to be productive and make big decisions quickly.

The results: Busting stereotypes 

Stereotype #1: Similar personalities make a bad team

In 2019, our team consisted of 39 people. This is how our entire team looked according to the personality test. We represented 14 different personality types.

16personalities at Remote Company

Are all these different personalities really a good thing? Yes.

First, let's see how our extrovert protagonists (leaders) performed. As they worked through the task, these “natural-born leaders” beamed with passion, charisma and displayed support and optimism towards each other. They produced an overwhelming amount of ideas and they had a great time working together.

The downside to this outpour of positivity and ideas was that they overestimated what could be done in three days. 

On the other hand, the other teams struggled with “idea killers” within the groups.  One group complained about a team member that always responded  “No, it won’t work” or “It makes no sense”. 

But in the end, those teams realized that it pushed them to improve the idea, to see different points of view, and to get the best possible result. Every team adapted to complete the task.

In the end, values matter more than a personality type.

We might approach information or make decisions differently, but if we aim for the same goal with shared values, it’s all good. This is why it’s essential to have company values that help the team determine how to work towards a common vision.

Putting this into practice

  1. Highlight your values: At The Remote Company, we’re very open about our values. Each candidate has to read through and acknowledge them, before accepting a role. Having values helps your team to be on the same page.

  2. Share your workplace personality types: On our Notion employee profiles, we have our personality types listed. Anyone can go and check out their colleagues’ personality traits, to give them a better idea of how to work with them.

Stereotype #2: Extroverts dominate the work environment

If you remember, we had one team that consisted exclusively of introverts. They had a complicated evolution during the week in the Azores.

Everyone on the team recognized an initial struggle to work together. The team barely interacted with each other and eventually separated into their own spaces to think and consider solutions on their own.

The Remote Company team

On the day of the presentations, the introverts had difficulty communicating their ideas. The presentation was hard to watch. The group was overwhelmed with the task.

At the same time, they were very open and honest about their struggles. They talked about the challenges and why they thought it had happened. They realized that they had judged and killed a lot of their ideas before they were shared aloud.

They thought their ideas all had flaws, were too complicated, or wouldn’t bring any value to our products. But after seeing other presentations, they noticed that they had similar ideas.

It's very useful to hear and see how people’s thought processes can be different from your own.

My own personality is very extroverted, so I'm comfortable talking through my ideas before they are fully formulated. I think out loud. I’m not afraid of risk. This is how I get dopamine, a chemical that triggers the reward center of the brain. I think and speak at the same time. 

Introverts have the opposite approach. When teams understand these differences, they will work together more effectively and help everyone to contribute.

Do you want to know the coolest part of the experiment? On the last day, the introverted team was the first to complete the task and spend their money! You should have seen how happy they were. They just needed more time, encouragement, and less pressure to perform.

So while it might seem that extroverts dominate the work environment, introverts are just as capable of taking care of business using a different approach.

For the whole team, it was an achievement to see that we can deliver results under different configurations and circumstances.

Putting this into practice

  1. Monthly check-ins: We use 15Five, a tool that allows teams to complete monthly check-ins. This gives everyone an opportunity to share how they’re feeling, and it can highlight if someone is struggling to complete their tasks or is experiencing stress.

  2. How to work with me’ manuals: These internal cheatsheets allow teams to share how they prefer to work and communicate so that we can all get along like a house on fire! 

  3. Avoiding micromanaging: When shaping a productive remote team, understand that everyone works and behaves differently. Micromanaging won’t work! We believe that as long as tasks are completed, people can work in a way that works best for them.

Stereotype #3: Introverts are best for remote work 

We call ourselves a remote-first company. Everyone joining The Remote Company understands that remote work culture is a core value. Although we have an office, all communication and project management is done in writing. Everyone needs to contribute to online communication to make it work.

According to our test results, we have a 50/50 split between extroverts and introverts on our team.

Fun fact: most of the introverts come to our open-plan office in Vilnius.

Maybe it’s because our office is like a library. Quiet is the default here. We have separate rooms where people go to have lunch, talk on the phone, or play foosball. We believe that regardless of your external display of energy, one needs silence to concentrate and get the job done.

What about extroverts working remotely? The key to a successful remote team is communication. If you have extroverts working remotely, your online communication will most likely be fun and engaging. Extroverts will take care of it. They are willing to interact, initiate discussing ideas, and are active in the company’s online communication.

If online communication is not enough for them, they easily find more social activities outside of work to inspire their ideas and boost their well-being.

Remote company girls boxing

Written communication in a remote work environment suits everyone. Introverts get to think their ideas through before sharing. Emotions can be felt, but are much more subdued—reducing workplace conflict. And it’s easy to communicate and manage projects asynchronously. 

Putting this into practice

  1. Hosting regular activities: Create opportunities for extroverts to talk and socialize. We do this via our workations, staycations, and monthly team meetings. Check out this list of virtual team building activities to get inspiration!

  2. Slack channels: We have different channels on Slack where people can talk about their interests, such as #books, #movies, #questionaday, and so on. This keeps everyone chatting away, even when we’re all working remotely!

How to manage a team with different personalities

Don’t be afraid to create a team of different work personalities. Allow them to be themselves and celebrate differences and emotional intelligence.

Create an environment that helps everyone thrive. Managing different personalities means letting people choose how they work and how they communicate.

Company values and culture will help the team stay on the same page and reach the same goal.

At the end of the day, this experiment helped us get to know each other on a deeper level and have more empathy toward each other. It was amazing to see how people learned about themselves, how they listened to others, and how willing they were to talk about their own needs and feelings to help us all grow as a team.

This is what my colleague wrote on 15Five after the workation:

Comments on 15five

Introducing: The DiSC model

More recently, we’ve tried out other ways to test and categorize our team personalities—including the DiSC model. 

Now, when new people join our team, we ask them to complete the DiSC personality test. This puts people’s behavior into the following categories:

  • Dominance: People that are direct, results-oriented, firm, strong-willed, and forceful

  • Influence: People that are outgoing, enthusiastic, optimistic, high-spirited, and lively

  • Conscientiousness: People that are analytical, reserved, precise, private, and systematic

  • Steadiness: People that are patient, even-tempered, accommodating, tactful and humble

Everyone fits into two of these categories, and this gives interesting insights into someone’s workplace personality. 

We discovered that this model works better for teams. Whereas the 16Personalities test had us more focused on ourselves, the DiSC model helps us to understand our colleagues better. It’s easier to remember the different types and the results are more telling of a person’s behavior in a professional setting.

For example, if one of our colleagues is more S-type, then we would be encouraged to back up our points of view with data, to accommodate the way they think. 

Signing off

One thing remains true across all personality traits: When you grow together, you stay together.

Would you like to work in a team where everyone gets along professionally and personally? We might be just the right fit for you.

Take a look at our job openings!

How do you form your team? What is the biggest challenge and how do you overcome it? Please share in the comments below.  

Editor's note: This post was originally published in October 2020 and has been updated with new experiments.


I’m Ilma, COO at The Remote Company. I love seeing our customers succeed. When they win, we win.


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