How to design effective teams using positive psychology

4 min read
Jes Kirkwood
  •  Aug 29, 2016
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All effective teams have shared aims, efficient decision-making processes, and clearly communicated roles and responsibilities.

Believe it or not, that’s the easy part.

In comparison, it’s much harder to:

  1. Hire people you know will succeed
  2. Build a team of people who are compatible

Today, we’re going to explore how positive psychology can help you accomplish these 2 tasks. By the end of this post, you’ll be prepared to design an effective team using positive psychology.

What is positive psychology?

In theory, psychologists study human behavior. They want to know how our minds interpret our experiences and influence our actions. But in reality, most psychologists focus on our problems. They look for developmental abnormalities that cause psychological disorders.

Positive psychologists are different. They strive to discover how we can be happier and more productive by recognizing our virtues, developing our strengths, and embracing positivity.

”Hire people you know will succeed.”


In many respects, they’re the growth hackers of the social sciences. They ask questions like, How can we leverage our strengths to boost productivity?

Throughout this article, you’ll learn about psychological assessments that can help you evaluate employees.

Now that we’ve established a framework, let’s look at each task in depth:

Step 1. Hire people you know will succeed

Effective teams consist of successful employeesTwitter Logo.

These employees balance quality work with getting the job done. They set realistic objectives, then they work hard to exceed them. And they spend time outside of work developing their skills and expertise.

Successful employees have 4 common characteristics:

Job fit
Job fit refers to the compatibility between an employee and their duties.

A strong job-candidate fit contributes to increased performanceTwitter Logo and employee satisfaction. It also decreases the likelihood that the individual will quit his or her job prematurely.

To evaluate job fit, ask yourself these 2 questions:

  1. Can the candidate meet the demands of the position?
  2. Will the position meet the needs of the candidate?

If your answer to both questions is yes, there’s a strong fit between the candidate and the job—a good sign that the candidate will be successful.

Culture fit
Culture fit refers to the compatibility between an employee and the organization they belong to.

To evaluate culture fit, consider how easy it would be for a candidate to integrate into your organization. It may be helpful to ask yourself questions like, Do they share our values? Our beliefs? How might they respond to our practices?

Consider these 2 examples:

  1. If you have an open floor plan, you may not want to hire someone who is extremely introverted or accustomed to working remotely. This candidate may struggle to be productive in a distracting environment.
  2. Someone who is accustomed to traditional team settings may not appreciate remote work. This candidate may struggle to perform without the ability to throw ideas back and forth with colleagues.


Passionate employees have interests that they’re motivated to invest inTwitter Logo.

People are much more engaged at work when they get to explore their interests. But it’s important that they’re motivated to invest in those interests. Why? Because if they aren’t, they’re unlikely to waste their time exploring their interests outside of work. That means it’ll take them much longer to build the expertise required to do their job well.

“People are much more engaged at work when they get to explore their interests.”

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Here’s an example: I love to sing. In fact, singing certain songs gives me shivers all over my body. Sometimes I even cry—that’s how much it moves me. I’m not a great singer, by any means. But then again, I’ve never had singing lessons. Why? Because it’s super unlikely I’d ever “make it” in the industry. In other words, I’m not motivated to invest in my interest, because I know that investment will reap no rewards. (I don’t need to be a great singer to enjoy it!)

The truth is, most people only invest in the interests that advance their goals. Everything else gets pushed to the side.

Skilled employees systematically develop their strengths over time.

Employees who regularly use their strengths are more satisfiedTwitter Logo and less likely to quit their jobs. That means you’ll spend less time and money hiring and training new employees.

“Employees who regularly use their strengths are less likely to quit their jobs.”

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Enabling your employees to use their strengths also boosts firm productivity by 12.5%. If that doesn’t sway you, I don’t know what will.

So what exactly are strengths? They’re innate abilities that can be developed into advanced competencies. For example, I have a natural aptitude for strategic thinking. My wife, on the other hand, is a fantastic relationship builder.

The Clifton StrengthsFinder® assessment can help you discover your employees’ unique strengths.

Each strength falls into one of 4 categories:

  1. Executing. People with executing strengths work hard to make things happen.
  2. Influencing. People with influencing strengths lead others in thought and action.
  3. Relationship building. People with relationship building strengths bring people together and enhance relationships.
  4. Strategic thinking. People with strategic thinking strengths continuously absorb and assess information, which helps organizations make better decisions.

It’s far better to invest in developing your employees’ strengths than to invest in their weaknesses. Here’s why: Weaknesses can be moderately improved, at best.Twitter Logo If developed, strengths can become advanced competences.

Mike could learn effective sales techniques. But he’s very nervous when interacting with people for the first time. That’s why it’s unlikely that he will ever become a high-performing sales representative. Working in sales is also unlikely to fulfill Mike. In fact, he might end up hating his job.

“Invest in developing your employees’ strengths—not their weaknesses.”

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On the other hand, Joe is a natural networker who enjoys attending industry events. If he was taught effective sales techniques, he could lead the sales team within 5 years.

That’s why developing your employees’ strengths is a much better investment.

Before you can build an effective team, you need high-performing players. So next time you consider hiring a new employee, revisit these 4 characteristics. Ask yourself, Does the candidate have both passion and skill? Is the candidate well-suited to the position? Will the candidate thrive in your organization? If the answer is yes to all 4 questions, don’t hesitate to make an offer.

But keep in mind: It’s not always appropriate to hire high-performance candidates. When hiring for entry-level positions, you should look for high-potential candidates: those with culture fit, job fit, and passion who’ve yet to develop their strengths. Given more time and experience, they could become star players.

Step 2. Build a team of people who are compatible
Effective teams consist of compatible team members.

I can hear you protesting: As long as my employees behave like professionals, it shouldn’t matter! Right?


Have you ever been on a team where people just couldn’t seem to get along? Incompatibility has the potential to derail even the simplest of projects.Twitter Logo That’s why you must select employees who are going to work well together.

In reality, we’re all products of our environments—social as well as physical environments. If the environment is right for a particular candidate, they’re sure to thrive. But if the environment is wrong, they’re certain to fail.

“Incompatibility has the potential to derail even the simplest of projects.”

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Psychological compatibility reduces relationship conflict while producing the conditions for harmonious interactions. That’s why it’s critical to get this step right.

While the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator® (MBTI) assessment is often used by individuals to assess their personalities, it’s equally valuable for assessing compatibility between employees.

16Personalities provides a free version of this assessment online. It’s not identical to the MBTI®, but it’s a helpful tool nonetheless.

These assessments evaluate people across 4 dimensions:


The extroversion—introversion dimension evaluates how a person is energized.

  • Extroverted (E). Extroverts clarify their ideas through discussion. They get assurance from others, and prefer to work in team settings.
  • Introverted (I). Introverts must develop their thoughts before discussing them. They are self-assured individuals who prefer to work alone.


The sensing—intuition dimension evaluates how a person makes sense of their environment.

  • Sensing (S). Sensing people focus on the present moment. They are driven by observable data, and tend to be detail-oriented.
  • Intuition (N) Intuitive people envision what the future could hold. They are concept-driven and imaginative, and tend to concentrate on the bigger picture.

The feeling—thinking dimension evaluates how a person makes decisions.

  • Feeling (F). Feeling people make decisions based on subjective values. They enjoy working in cooperation with others, and tend to evaluate the world through the lens of justice.
  • Thinking (T) Thinking people make decisions based on objective logic. They are critical thinkers who prefer solving problems over engaging with people.

The perceiving—judging dimension evaluates how a person operates on a daily basis.

  • Perceiving (P). Perceiving people are open to change. They find it easy to adapt to new circumstances, and are naturally curious about the world. They tend to collect lots of information before making decisions.
  • Judging (J). Judging people require structure and routine. They are decisive by nature, but often craft detailed plans that can be easily followed before acting.

Keep in mind: In many cases, people become less extreme and more balanced as they develop. The result? Variable personality traits. For example, ambiverts are people who are equally introverted and extroverted.

The 4 dimensions combine to produce 16 unique personality types:

Image: You can find lots of great information about each personality type on

Let’s review how these types interact.

With few exceptions, sensing (S) and intuitive (N) types don’t get along. That’s a difficult pill to swallow—especially in an industry where designers and developers must work together. Many designers are intuitive feeling (NF) types, while many developers are sensing thinking (ST) types. Unfortunately, these 2 types don’t work well together.

Here’s how you can resolve this issue: Hire people who can bridge the gap between incompatible types.Twitter Logo

Intuitive thinking (NT) types are ideal for this role. They have moderately successful relationships with all MBTI® types. That’s part of the reason they make great leaders: Because they can relate to everyone.

Intuitive (N) types are also skilled at bridging communication gaps between their colleagues. For this reason, they often act as in-office translators.

It’s also important to understand how your leaders’ MBTI® results will influence your organization’s culture.

CPP’s L4 Strategy Model analyzes the relationship between the intuition—sensing (N/S) and feeling—thinking (F/T) dimensions and an organization’s culture.

According to their research,

  • Sensing Feeling (SF) types foster cooperative cultures
  • Sensing Thinking (ST) types foster consistent cultures
  • Intuitive Feeling (NF) types foster inspirational cultures
  • Intuitive Thinking (NT) types foster achievement cultures

Whether you’re building an executive team or hiring 2 mid-level managers to jointly oversee one functional area, understanding the interactions between these types of leaders can help you foster a thriving organizational culture.

For example, similar types tend to work well together. This is true for thinking (T), intuitive (N), and sensing (S) types. But feeling (F) types who are paired together may experience conflict.

Opposites sometimes attract, but not always. While sensing feeling (SF) and intuitive thinking (NT) leaders work well together, sensing thinking (ST) and intuitive feeling (NF) leaders butt heads.

When building an effective team, you need to consider how team members will interact. Once you’ve assessed each team member using the MBTI® assessment, you can put complementary people on the same team.

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