Ilma from MailerLite

Ilma10 min readBehind the ScenesApril 8, 2019

What makes a good team? Our experiment exploring 16 different personalities

What makes a good team? Our experiment exploring 16 different personalities

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 and how to create a work environment that gets the most out of every employee. But do these "best practices" work for every company?

I've noticed 3 major stereotypes when it comes to team building and team management that did not seem to apply 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 better understand 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 3 stereotypes.


3 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, 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

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 workation (this is what we call MailerLite’s retreats) in the Azores, every team member took a personality test called 16Personalities

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 contains 14 personality types with a mix of both introverts and extroverts. We took the opportunity to put the stereotypes to the test by creating 7 groups with varying personality combinations.


The Teams

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

Protagonists

According to 16Personalities, protagonists are natural-born leaders, full of passion and charisma. They make up only 2% of the population and often become politicians, 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 the outspoken extroverts.

The other 5 teams were a mix of different people.


The Task

Every team received $2000 that they had to spend within 3 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.

I’ll share the cool growth hacking ideas and results of each project in a future article.


The Results: Busting stereotypes 

Stereotype #1: Similar personalities make a bad team

This is how our entire team looks according to the personality test. We represent 14 different personality types.

16 personalities test

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

First, let's see how the 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 3 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.

At MailerLite, we are very open about our values. Each candidate must read through and acknowledge them before accepting a role. We want people to know how we work and what we believe.


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 to their own spaces to think and consider solutions on their own.

The 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 MailerLite. 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.

As an extrovert, I am 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.


Stereotype #3: Introverts are best for remote work 

We call ourselves a remote-first company. Everyone joining MailerLite 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, they 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.

Chat on Slack

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. And it’s easy to communicate and manage projects asynchronically. 


Focus on HOW different personality types prefer to work

Don’t be afraid to create a team of different personalities. Allow them to be themselves and celebrate differences. Create an environment that helps everyone thrive. Let 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.

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 feelings to help us all grow as a team.

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

Comments on 15five

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


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