Whether you have just changed job and need to get up to speed with your new team, or are leading a long-standing intact team, there is one thing that you and your team members all need in order to become more effective.


That may come as a surprise. After all, you and your team almost certainly know, or have access to, all the data that relates to your team’s assignment. If anyone asks a question, you have that information, all correct and ready to go.

The one thing you may well be missing, however, is accurate, objective knowledge - about yourselves. That could be a real problem, since 80-90% of what you achieve is going to be the product of how well you all work; individually, collectively, cross-functionally and with customers. You wouldn’t try getting your products to market, nor your quarterly results past your boss, on the basis of a hunch or two; you would expect to have the right numbers and data at your fingertips. That being so, you probably shouldn’t try managing your people on the basis of your subjective impressions, either.

So what do you need in order to understand yourself and your team, the same way you understand your products? Whatever it is, it had better be objective, accurate data: you put your career at risk if you go to a client or a regulator or your boss with inaccurate data, so expect to work to the same standards here. But what else?

You need to know some basics:

  • what makes each of your people tick (and what might stop their clock);

  • how they see themselves;

  • how they see everyone else;

  • how they react to situations that aren’t working - and how you should interpret that.

If you are saying, “I know all that stuff already, because I am very observant and insightful”: I seriously doubt that. I am not yanking your chain, just stating a fact. We can measure each of those four constructs, very accurately; and only one of them is likely to present you with no big surprises: “how they see themselves” will tend to drive the way your colleagues behave, at least most of the time.

On the other hand, “how they see everyone else” is completely invisible to you (and may be well below the level of conscious thought for them); “what makes them tick” is probably not what you think, and, while you may well see “how they react” sometimes, you don’t have the keys to interpret that accurately.

(If it helps soften the blow, I work with this data all the time, and I have learnt that, 98 times out of 100, even with people I think I know well, I will end up saying “ah - so that’s it; that’s not what I guessed, but this makes so much more sense than what I thought I was seeing…”)

As a result of having that fundamental level of insight, you will also be able to answer the hard questions:

  • Where might we (two of us, or the whole team) not be on the same page, even though we think we are;

  • What blind spots do I / we have;

  • Are we likely to frame all problems in a particular way, and if so what other approaches should we be trying;

  • How do I communicate with each of my team, and the team as a whole, so as to be heard - and how do I know that I have heard them; and

  • Why did this person travel across time and space from their own planet, just to drive me mad? (That space alien question has always been one of my favourites!)

Is this stuff really all that important?

Let me give you a very simple example of the “are we on the same page” issue:

Low Scientific / High Scientific

The two people above are actually quite similar in many ways, but have very different scores on a construct called ‘Scientific Interest’. When the person on the right (with a high Scientific score) asks a question about why something has turned out a particular way, what they mean is, “I am trying to get to the bottom of this; I want to arrive at a fundamental understanding of how this happened and what we need to learn from that.”

Unfortunately, what the person on the left hand side (with a low Scientific score) hears is this: “give me an answer in case I need it”, and so replies with the first vaguely credible explanation they can find.

This is not a recipe for a happy team. The right hand person becomes frustrated and wonders whether the other person thinks they are stupid or ‘easily pleased’; the left hand person picks up the anger and wonders what the right hand person’s problem is. This is a real example, which I have seen played out time and time again, in Marketing teams especially.

What having the data does is to turn the lights on: “Aha - you just thought I wanted an answer, when I actually wanted to get to the bottom of this issue.” “Now I get it - I thought you were just covering yourself with your boss, and couldn’t understand why you were being so difficult about it all.”

(You can also read this post if you want examples of how blind spots play out.)

Who needs to know this, and how do they need to know it?

If you are the team leader, clearly you need this information; but actually all of your team need it, too. Everyone has primary responsibility for understanding and managing their own perspectives; and in a team setting, understanding how that relates to others with whom they share responsibility for delivering outcomes.

Each individual needs to have that information in a written form. Once they are comfortable with what it says about them, they can share that written version with others. Having a group summary that puts the whole team together is pretty useful too.

In our experience though, there is nothing like seeing, hearing and ‘feeling’ the data, in the round. That’s why we have always done a lot of workshops for clients, to give time and space to make what would otherwise just be data on a page, into a living, breathing, walking reality. That is where insights really happen and the lightbulbs go on.

So how do you do this, and what does it cost?

We have been doing this work for blue-chip clients for the past 17 years; and the feedback has been consistently enthusiastic. Our setup is simple: we get each participant to complete a 30-40 minute online Birkman Questionnaire, and use the data and reports generated to facilitate team interaction. We have a range of reporting options, which affect the per person cost, but data collection and reporting can be as little as USD30/pax.

One of our most recent projects has been to productise our ‘standard’ team workshop, so that instead of hiring one of our team in for the day, you can now facilitate a half-day session for yourself (or have a colleague do so). Don’t misunderstand: we absolutely love doing this stuff, so if you want us to come in to work with your team, we are ready and willing. But there is now also a great ‘self-service’ option, with video material, exercises, a participant workbook and a detailed facilitator guide.

What this means is that if you have a team of 10, you can facilitate your own team learning for as little as USD880; or have us come in to work with your team from USD3,300, upwards (depending on level of detail and post-workshop discussion required). For a team of 30, those numbers would be USD2,640 and ‘from USD3,900’, respectively.

The people factor tends to get ignored because of the perception that a) it is too hard to get a firm grip on and b) because once you have consultants in, costs tend to spiral. As a result, we ignore the people factor and leave huge upside rewards and results on the table. What I am trying to suggest in this article is that there is a practical, proven approach; which uses hard-edged, reliable data; and it need cost no more than a very small fraction of your salary bill for one month.

Or you could keep guessing.

Originally posted on LinkedIn - Published August 14, 2017