Temperament and Teams
by Susan K. Gerke and Linda V. Berens


The following is adapted from Susan K. Gerke and Linda V. Berens, The I in TEAM: Accelerating Performance of Remote and Co-located Teams (Unite Business Press, 2005) *Used with permission

Understanding Temperament and the Forming Stage of Team Development

The Forming stage is a critical stage in the process of team development. For your currently forming team, which of the following characteristics are true?


Stage 1: Forming Characteristics True for
My Team
Some excitement, anticipation, and optimism
Some anxiety: Where do I fit?
Expectation: Looking to the leader for guidance and direction
Politeness among team members
A cautious atmosphere
Need in individuals to find a place and establish themselves  


The following questions, which we identified in Chapter 2, are being asked during the Forming stage:

  • What's our purpose?
  • What will my role be?
  • Who are these other people?
  • How will we work together?



Questions - (Back of mind concerns)

In addition to having the preceding questions answered, to become really engaged in the team, team members also need to feel that their core needs will be met. Even though concerns about their core needs are likely to be outside their awareness, these concerns will influence their behaviors. These "back-of-mind" concerns are being asked (often unconsciously) by people of all four temperaments.


The Idealist

• Do I care about our work?
• Do I have a meaningful role in this team?
• Can I relate to these people?

The Guardian

• What will I be responsible for?
• Do I have a place in this team?
• Will these team members do their part?

The Rational

• Is there room for my area of expertise?
• Do I have the competence required?
• Are these people competent?

The Artisan

• Is there room in this team for me to make an impact?
• Will I have the freedom to act as I see fit?
• What's in it for everyone to be on this team?


Remote Team Concerns

When a remote team is just forming, the questions in people's minds are the same as for co-located teams. The challenge, though, is that there is often not a forum in which to get answers to the questions.

It is rare that a remote team can come together for a face-to-face meeting to get the team started, so this stage is often extended while people try to figure out the answers to their questions. Many co-located teams skip this stage, even though for them it is easier than it is for remote teams. It's very easy, then, for a remote team to jump into work without any focus on helping team members through this stage.

Buy-In Questions

While the team as a whole needs to define "why we are here" and "who we are," individuals will be looking for more specific answers based on their temperament. Providing for these needs supplies the "buy-in" needed by people of different temperaments.


The Idealist

• Are people well intentioned? Will people cooperate?
• Is there a sense of good will?

The Guardian

• Do we have the people and tools we need to be successful?
• Will we be a team long enough to make it worthwhile?

The Rational

• How does what we're doing fit into the scheme of things?
• Is this well-thought-out?

The Artisan

• Is there anything for me to do here?
• Is this going to be a waste of time or boring?


The I in TEAM Accelerating Performance of Remote and Co-located Teams Hardover / 192 pages Buy Now at Interstrength.com

Needs from Leader

It's early in the life of the team and some of the members are looking to the team leader to provide the guidance and structure needed to get started. In order to satisfy all members, the team leader must make sure the following tasks are accomplished for each temperament.


The Idealist

• Take time to get to know each other.
• Define a purpose that has meaning.
• Recognize and affirm unique talents.

The Guardian

• Clarify roles.
• Define a structure for forming the team.
• Provide time frames.

The Rational

• Share members' knowledge and expertise.
• Define the goal.
• Give a rationale for any prescribed processes.

The Artisan

• Provide opportunity for skillful performance and freedom of action.
• Get started quickly.
• Set boundaries and parameters early.


Proactively providing for these needs can move a team forward more quickly into the Storming stage where differences will begin to appear. Dealing with the differences can accelerate the team's process in a productive way.

Remote Team Concerns

If there is no start-up face-to-face meeting, structure considerations are often assumed and relationship issues are ignored. Without a conversation, people will tend to work independently to figure out what they need or make it happen.

This independent movement could result in a variety of outcomes, including the following:

  • A lengthening of the time it takes to do the task or project
  • Work "falling through the cracks"
  • Duplicate or unnecessary work being done
  • Paralysis in waiting for clarity about team structure and relationships


If these needs from the leader aren't met, the Storming stage will often be more turbulent and longer than necessary, and it might be more difficult for the team to progress to the next stage of development.

Actions and Tools to Maximize the Forming Stage

To make the most of the Forming stage, hold a meeting or a series of meetings as soon as the team is formed. These meetings, while best face to face, can be conducted with teleconference calls, e-meetings, video conferences, or other technology.

In this meeting or meetings, the following accomplishments are important:

  1. Clarify purpose
  2. Build relationships
  3. Dialogue about differences
  4. Define goals and objectives
  5. Clarify roles and identify skills
  6. Clarify boundaries
  7. Establish team norms or operating guidelines
  8. Identify tasks to begin right away


Some of these items relate more to the task dimension (T) of teamwork, some to the relationship dimension (R), and one relates to both. Be careful not to focus only on task or only on relationship actions.

1. Clarify Purpose "T"

The team needs the answer to the questions, "Why have we been put together?" and "What are we supposed to accomplish?" These answers are likely to come from the organization or the team leader. If they don't, then the leader needs to guide a discussion to clarify the team's purpose.


2. Build Relationships "R"

We do things for people we know. For the team to accomplish work together, relationship building is key. Some relationship building will happen over the life of the team. Deliberate efforts to build relationships among all team members early on will pay off in moving the team to more productive levels of performance. Team members need to get to know one another on many levels, including personality style, work background, and personal interests. Good meeting openers or coffee conversations to facilitate relationship building include the following: - What did you do this weekend? -What's your favorite leisure pastime? - What are you proud of? - What are your goals and objectives this week? - What are your key challenges this week? Even when you can't meet face to face to do relationship building, you can use technology to work on it. On Web sites or team databases, you can include photos and personal information. On conference calls or e-meetings, remember to use the above meeting openers to learn more about one another. One team we know had a place in its team database called the "water cooler," where members posted personal information such as family photographs, news of births, vacation plans, and so on. Team members could read the team news when they had time, and it helped everyone feel more connected with each other.


The I in TEAM Accelerating Performance of Remote and Co-located Teams Hardover / 192 pages Buy Now at Interstrength.com


3. Dialogue on Differences "T"

It is also helpful to learn about personality differences. Temperament is a good place to start. As individuals understand how they are different and alike, they can be more open to ways of working successfully together. Bringing these differences to the surface early prevents wasteful conflict over what can become the strength of a team-differences. So start with temperament and move on to other differences you are aware of.


4. Define Goals and Objectives "T"

What is the work of this team? How will the team measure success and what are the milestones? Team members are likely to have very different views of the goals. Temperament differences contribute to seeing things differently, so be sure to include everyone in clarifying the goals. Some people are less inclined than others to set measurements and look for milestones. Some will want to spend more time on this. Find a good balance to be sure this action is taken.


5. Clarify Roles and Identify Skills "T"

Who brings what talents and skills to the team and how will they be used? The tool on page 172-173 can be useful for exploring temperament talents. The team will also want to understand other skills, knowledge, and experiences that each member has. Looking at skills and talents is often just a starting point and will need to be pursued further in the Storming stage.


6. Clarify Boundaries "T"

What does this team have authority to decide and what must it get permission for? If it appears that a boundary will impact the team's ability to accomplish its work, that boundary should be challenged. When a team challenges a boundary, it should know who owns the boundary and put together a case for changing it.

Example: A team has a boundary stipulating that it may not spend more than $250 on technology without permission from the finance department. Many of the items the team needs to successfully implement its project fall in the range of $200 to $450 and often take two days to receive after being ordered. Currently the spending-approval process takes one week, causing the team to lose time after members decide what product they need.

The team should put together a case for extending the boundary to $500 and present it to the appropriate person in the finance department.

In the remote environment, getting permission can add significantly to the turnaround time on work. Time spent early in the life of the team clarifying boundaries can positively impact the team's ability to accomplish work productively down the road.


7. Establish Team Norms or Operating Guidelines "T" and "R"

Establishing norms or operating guidelines is important for teams, particularly remote teams. Some common norms are

  • How often do we meet?
  • How do we make decisions?
  • How do we treat each other?

It is important to set time for each team member to share how he or she likes to receive feedback and handle conflict, and to address other relationship and communication issues that can come up. Then the team can agree on some ground rules for interacting with each other under pressure.

Remote teams also need to establish norms around technology and connections.

For example

Which tools will be used when? "T"

  • Conference calls
  • Shared databases
  • E-meetings
  • Instant messaging
  • E-mail


How quickly will we respond to requests? "R"

Since we can't see each other, we need to know what our commitments are to each other. The response times may be different on e-mail, databases, and voice mail.

What is each person's preferred way to be contacted? "R"

  • Should I call your cell phone or your business phone first?
  • Do you prefer to receive e-mail or voice mail?
  • How should I contact you when it's urgent?
  • What are your guidelines for your cell phone after hours?
  • What hours do you have your cell phone turned on?


8. Identify Tasks to Begin Right Away "T"

With the team knowledge that's been collected, it should be relatively easy to determine the tasks to be done, who should do them, and the priority of each task. Be sure you take time to specify these things rather than assume people will know what to do.

If these eight actions are taken, team members of each temperament will feel included and feel they have a place on the team.

Of the eight actions, which are most important to you?

  1. Clarify Purpose
  2. Build Relationships
  3. Dialogue on Differences
  4. Define Goals and Objectives
  5. Clarify Roles and Identify Skills
  6. Clarify Boundaries
  7. Establish Team Norms or Operating Guidelines
  8. Identify Tasks to Begin Right Away

For your currently forming team, which actions have been done?


Which actions need to be taken?


What are your hopes and fears for this team?




How do these relate to your temperament?



Moving On to the Storming Stage

For some team members the Forming stage is a comfortable place. Spending time getting to know each other and laying out the goals, milestones, norms, and so on can be satisfying and feel safe. However, the team needs to do real work and must move beyond the comfort of getting organized and connected.

But don't move before you are ready.

Example: A software development team (one Artisan, one Idealist and two Rationals) was working on a complex project with many almost unsolvable problems. Nobody was enjoying the work and there was underlying tension between team members. Conflict emerged about how to get the work done and how to better use the talents on the team.

As a solution, the team went back to the Forming stage and determined that it didn't have a clear and common picture of what it was being asked to do. The process to identify the problem moved fairly quickly because the team had already done some good work around relationship building and sharing of expertise when it first formed.

While this team had done most of the forming, it needed to revisit clarifying its purpose and boundaries. Given the preferences for abstract language on the part of three of the four team members, it was natural for them to not get enough detail about the purpose of the team in the beginning. Had the team members done this more concretely to start with, they probably wouldn't have had to revisit the task.

The realities of the work setting often require quickly moving on to do work. The guidelines presented in this chapter can help identify what Forming processes need to be revisited when early Storming happens.

The I in TEAM Accelerating Performance of Remote and Co-located Teams Hardover / 192 pages Buy Now at Interstrength.com


Adapted from Susan K. Gerke and Linda V. Berens, The I in TEAM:
Accelerating Performance in Remote and Co-located Teams
(Telos Publications, 2005) *Used with permission


Find out more about Susan K. Gerke

Find out more about Linda V. Berens


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