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  • Writer's pictureMarkus Starmer

Team Profiling: A Waste Of Time And Money

I see many LinkedIn postings extolling the virtues of using psychometric tools for profiling teams, notionally to assist with their development. I groan when one appears, because I don’t concur that they add benefit. Here’s why:

There are four principal reasons why a business initiates a team development event.

  1. They want a ‘team jolly’ (An excuse for a morale boosting good time.)

  2. They want to explore ways in which the team can maximize its effectiveness (The sponsor suspects the team is not fulfilling its potential.)

  3. They believe that a team ‘health check is in order’ (The sponsor suspects/knows there’s something wrong.)

  4. The team environment is dysfunctional and it needs sorting out (The hardest one to admit to.)

All four are valid reasons for investment. But the way businesses choose to invest will often result in a very poor return.

The most typical approach taken to team development involves examining team make up from a psychological perspective. Using one of the wide range of proprietary tools available, a trainer will guide event participants through a psychometric analysis that reveals their preferences about the role they would wish to undertake (and are notionally best suited for) within a team.

The resulting analysis divulges not only individual preferences, but also shows team members needs relative to one another, producing an overall profile.

Profiling tools are marketed as a method that will allow teams to uncover their strengths, reveal ‘gaps’, and allow members to work together more effectively as a result of this knowledge.

The logic behind discovering a team's profile is that if you have a group comprised of individuals with diverse preferences that will cover all of the bases required to complete a task, that team will be more effective than one made up of individuals who have the same or similar preferences.

What most organisations miss is the fact that the logic is fundamentally flawed.

Most glaringly obvious is the fact that businesses most frequently use profiling to explore team make up after the team has been created, not before it has been formed. Thus, the opportunity to select team members based upon complementary preferences, creating a group wherein the potential for ‘gaps’ is eradicated, is already lost. [I have never come across an organisation that puts personal preferences before an individual’s apparent functional value to a team.]

So, if the use of psychometric profiling is like shutting the stable door after the horse has bolted, why is it so popular in team development?

Its use is explained away by trainers as being about “Understanding and valuing our colleagues”. By the companies that market the tools, they are offered as almost universal panaceas to promote self-awareness and develop strategies that will improve performance at work.

In the team context, their supposed value hinges upon the assumption that once we know the (personal preference related) reasons behind our own and our colleague’s choices, effectiveness will naturally follow.

However, we all know that employment means that personal preferences must take a back seat in the face of business requirements. So how does it profit us to know what we (or anybody else) would like to do, when we must all do whatever we need to, in order to get the job done?

And then there is the unfortunate reality of the business world, in its almost limitless contexts, wherein a workplace is subject to the vicissitudes of human dynamics. These are regulated not by neatly quantifiable logic that defines us, but by the emotional imperatives that drive us as individuals.

Effective participation in a team depends upon a personal choice. Sure, it may be impacted upon by likes and dislikes that create preferences at a task level. But at least in as far as team effectiveness goes, our emotional responses to others are the all-pervasive driving force. Our beliefs, prejudices and experiences of one another are the most significant factors in creating team dynamics, not task oriented preferences.

Team profiling offers little more than a way to explore embedded needs. These will seldom provide us with compelling reasons (and certainly not the practical ability) to change ourselves. Nor will they cause us to excuse attitudes and behaviours in others that we find unacceptable. Understanding does not suddenly displace histories of antagonistic relationships, or dispel grievances about one another.

If we have one type of preference and our colleagues have another, WHO CARES?

Are we really going to change to accommodate them just because we know that? Do we really believe they will?

Team profiling is fine for exploring ideal team make up, from a theoretical/academic perspective. But it’s value to a live, up and running team is negligible. As the inevitable elements of the human dynamic come into play, profiling ceases to have any value in overcoming the real-world, interpersonal challenges that are part of being human.

Team profiling is not transformational or corrective. It may even lead to individuals changing their self-perceptions to fit their given categorisation; or worse, pigeon-holing others and forming limiting judgments of their worth and potential.

Frankly, if your team development ‘expert’ advocates the use of these kinds of tools, it’s because they are struggling to add real value; or worse, they don’t really understand how to help a team become more effective.

Yet despite everything that is said, don’t expect your people to cast aspersions upon the value of the profiling experience. Like psychometrics used in other types of training event, team profiling has the unique appeal of allowing everybody to take a good long look at their favourite subject: themselves.

Unfortunately, for a business, that’s unlikely to be a good investment of either time or money.

NB. In case you are wondering about my credentials for voicing these opinions, my background includes the following: Over 32 years I have created and run events for teams with as few as 4, and as many as 55 members. I have designed for those who share the same workplace, those who are located in widespread national locales, and even those spread across different continental locations. I have devised inter and intra-team events, delivered to teams from the same business and co-dependent businesses. This has been as both an employee, and as a self-employed individual. For the last 20 years I have offered a no benefit, no fee service. I have always been paid. Other than when required to do so when I was in employment, I have never chosen to use these tools.

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