How do you build a winning team? Be quiet and keep reading.

This summer, our small (but mighty) content team here at iCIMS started reading Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain. Each Wednesday, at the end of our weekly team meeting we discuss a chapter of the book, which is a deep dive into the quiet power of introverts. It’s not only taught us a lot about ourselves as a team, but who we are as individuals.  

When our manager first suggested that we read a book together as a team-building exercise of sorts, my two fellow writers and I were happy to oblige. While I initially envisioned the four of us tackling a classic like Middlemarch or Moby Dick, reading this well-researched work of nonfiction with over 40 pages of notes at the end has been personally validating. It’s also proved professionally relevant for our group that writes every day about how to attract and engage talent.

Time and again while reading, I’ve been reminded of an ongoing conversation we’ve been having here in our (virtual) office about the psychology behind winning teams. We’ve pondered what “winning” even means and the components that make up teams that work well together. And it has shown me that our team is example of an effective team born out of a good balance of strengths, personalities, and experiences, nurtured by an environment that understands our unique needs as creative and (mostly) introverted workers. 

Making a case for your introverted teammates 

Cain’s book argues that our modern Western culture holds big personalities that go out and make friends and influence people in such high esteem that we shortchange more introverted personalities. This leads, she writes, to “a colossal waste of talent, energy, and happiness.” 

Quiet makes a case for the contributions of introverted figures throughout history – think Eleanor Roosevelt and Steve Wozniak – who made significant contributions in their own quiet ways. While their more famous counterparts (outgoing Franklin and the iconic Steve Jobs) received much of the praise, it was the quiet figures in the background who made arguably some of the biggest contributions, says Cain. 

She advises team managers, “Make the most of introverts’ strengths. These are the people who can help you think deeply, strategize, solve complex problems, and spot canaries in your coal mine.” 

What makes a team “successful”? 

According to Brad Schneider, the VP of Assessment Science at Criteria Corp., an iCIMS partner, “Winning teams do more than hit year-end goals.” To be effective, he observed, teammates need to: 

  • Execute exceptionally well
  • Innovate (and have fun doing it)
  • Share a sense of purpose: Everyone on the team is aligned on its mission and goals
  • Exhibit cohesiveness: Teammates are dedicated to the effort and support each other
  • Foster psychological safety: Members know that they can share opinions or make mistakes and not be subjected to ridicule or punishment
  • Share a strong leader 

 Much of what Schneider says aligns with a 2013 study by Google that delved into the science behind successful teams. Project Aristotle cracked the code of the underlying norms that winning teams share. Those include qualities like structure and clarity – which give team members clear roles, plans, and goals – and impact, where teammates feel their work has true meaning. 

As our Chief People Officer, Jewell Parkinson, puts it, “A team’s composition should include complimentary skills, different styles, and diverse life experiences – which include views, backgrounds, and geographic mix.” 

So, what’s not important for a team to succeed? Google’s Project Aristotle debunked some commonly-held beliefs (at least by me) about just what ingredients are needed to build an effective team: 

  • Colocation of teammates (sitting together in the same office)  
  • Consensus-driven decision making  
  • Extroversion of team members
  • Individual performance of team members
  • Workload size
  • Seniority
  • Team size
  • Tenure 

Now that you’ve got a feel for what teams need and don’t need to be effective, what does one look like IRL? 

Variety is the spice of life (and teams) 

Our content team at iCIMS is, by nature, a collection of deep thinkers who eschew groupthink and instead go off to our own desks or corners of our couches to make something and then bring it to the group for discussion. We are professional writers, after all. But we are a mix of ages and genders and come from a variety of backgrounds. Our experiences are varied: journalism, SEO, advertising, higher ed, and content marketing. Some of us are process nerds. Others are natural storytellers or analytical thinkers.   

There’s a quiz at the front of Quiet to help determine where you fall in the introvert/extrovert scales, and three of the four of us were shocked to discover we had many more introverted qualities than we initially thought we had. And one of our teammates was unsurprised to fall squarely in the introverted camp, which is where he’d like to stay and do his work (alone), thank you very much.  

But we all work hard to support team goals and know that our work helps drive the business we’re all proud to be a part of. We also have a strong (mostly extroverted) leader who has created an atmosphere of acceptance and psychological safety, which allows us all the space to share thoughts and ideas freely without fear of recrimination. Together we can check off each of Schneider’s six bullets for a winning team. 

The tech to build your best team 

With a blueprint in hand for some of the qualities that make for a successful team, it’s time to think about how to build one yourself. Here are some ideas: 

  • Identify skills/characteristics needed for the role  
  • Attract the winning talent you need – faster   
  • Raise the bar on employee and candidate engagement   
  • Take a new approach to how and who you hire   
  • Unlock hidden talent and advance your top players 

You’ll need the right tech to achieve some of these initiatives. You can start with your assessments, which allow you to look at a candidate beyond the CV and see skills that don’t always translate onto a CV. As Schneider points out, “Building a winning team is predominantly a selection process.”  

Here’s how you can use your talent tech stack to start building your own winning team: 

  • iCIMS Candidate Relationship Management (CRM) can  surface the most relevant candidates based on skills while helping to reduce bias and cumbersome manual sorting. Your candidate relationship management system will house and organise talent communities based on whatever criteria — skills, experience level, product knowledge, etc. — is most relevant for your company and can be tapped to fill open roles.  
  •  iCIMS Dynamic Candidate Profile can also help reduce unconscious bias from screening and work to promote diversity in the candidate pool. It can continually update candidate profiles with rich data offering 360-degree views. Seeing the makeup of your internal and external candidates can guide your DEI strategy and measure results quickly.  
  • iCIMS Video Studio allows you to authentically share your organisation’s culture to help attract right-fit candidates through employee-generated video testimonials. You can also share employee testimonials on career sites, through CRM email, and on social media.  
  • iCIMS Video Interviews allows candidates to record answers to your interview questions at their own convenience. The format can allow recruiters to pick up on soft skills not shown on a CV and more introverted thoughtful types can have the time they need to prepare to showcase their skills and strengths in a less pressured setting. 

‘Strength lies in differences, not similarities.’ 

Of course, tech alone won’t build a winning workforce. Having a mindset that sees purpose and value in each of the possible personalities and experiences out there must be the foundation. A desire to engage a wide diversity of thought at your company will inform how you use your tech to build your teams. 

I like how Cain frames this idea with a quote from composer Allen Shaw: 

“A species in which everyone was General Patton would not succeed, any more than would a race in which everyone was Vincent Van Gogh. I prefer to think that the planet needs athletes, philosophers, sex symbols, painters, scientists; it needs the warmhearted, the hardhearted, the coldhearted, and the weakhearted.” 

If you want to learn more about the science (and tech) to build your best team, download the infographic here 

Download the Science and Tech to Build Your Winning Team

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