The Value of Values for Teams

samuel-zeller-4138Groups are the default human working unit. For most sorts of jobs, people tend to cooperate and collaborate to get the work done. Even when the job doesn’t need collaboration we still prefer to do it in proximity with others – think brew clubs or cruise ships.

When the job requires cooperation, people are selected into teams primarily on the basis of their functional skills. A surgical team is based on the specialist skills of nurses, anaesthesiologists, and surgeons for example.

However, a large body of research has shown that selecting people purely on the basis of functional skills is no guarantor of an effective, cohesive team; deep-level characteristics like personality and values also emerge as essentials for developing social cohesion and enhancing performance (Bell, 2007). You can put world-class talent together on a team, and it may still fail to perform as a cohesive unit. The Cleveland Cavaliers are a case in point, and research on NBA teams shows that adding talent can lead to worse performance (Swaab, Schaerer, Anicich, Ronay, & Galinsky, 2014).

A moment’s thought makes this point clear: working with a skilled colleague who is also irascible, disorganized and uncaring makes it harder to connect as a group and introduces transaction costs in maintaining group harmony. The current US White House contains the most publicly visible example of this principle in action. In fact, the only way to create a team that’s worth more than the sum of its individual contributors is to select members on the basis of personality, soft skills, and values.

When a majority of team members share the same values, the team bonds more easily. In a study of university students, teams with members who shared significant personal values, like tradition, power, or altruism, reported more cohesion when compared to their less similar counterparts (Woehr, Arciniega, & Poling, 2013). A series of studies in the British National Health Service showed that teams whose values were congruent identified more strongly as a group and were more innovative (Mitchell, Parker, Giles, Joyce, & Chiang, 2012). Because values are a guide for behavioral choices, group members who share similar values are more likely to agree about group actions, and vice-versa. In this way values determine the group’s culture, and offer insight to the weight the team will place on decision choices.

The Hogan research team recently explored the link between the kinds of specialist skills people display and the values that the team holds. This relationship has big implications for predicting how teams will approach particular tasks and behave on the job, such as pursuing results, being commercially minded, or valuing innovation.

For example, manual work teams are more likely to contain members whose personalities could be described as pragmatic: tough minded and practical (Hogan Assessment Systems, 2016). Importantly, we found that these teams are also more likely to share values concerned with intuitive decision making, self-reliance and low levels of social interaction (lower Affiliation).

In contrast, teams that contain members who are creative (that is, who demonstrate high levels of openness to ideas and curiosity) are also much more likely to share values relating to analytical thinking, commerciality, and achieving results – think advertising agencies.

Teams which comprise results oriented individuals, such as leadership teams (Winsborough & Sambath, 2013), are more likely to share values related to power, commerce, and affiliation, and less likely to endorse values related to security and altruism. We can confidently predict that the culture of these teams will be assertive, confident, socially outgoing, and independent.

When assembling teams there is always a tradeoff between the skills needed to get the job done and the emergent personality of the group. Our new research shows that the kinds of people on the team determines its culture, decision making styles, and likelihood of bonding.


Bell, S. T. (2007). Deep-level composition variables as predictors of team performance: A meta-analysis. Journal of Applied Psychology, 92(3), 595–615.

Hogan Assessment Systems. (2016). Hogan Team Report Technical Manual. Tulsa, OK.: Hogan Assessment Systems.

Mitchell, R., Parker, V., Giles, M., Joyce, P., & Chiang, V. (2012). Perceived value congruence and team innovation. Journal of Occupational and Organizational Psychology, 85(4), 626–648.

Swaab, R. I., Schaerer, M., Anicich, E. M., Ronay, R., & Galinsky, A. D. (2014). The Too-Much-Talent Effect: Team Interdependence Determines When More Talent Is Too Much or Not Enough. Psychological Science, 25(8), 1581–1591.

Winsborough, D. L., & Sambath, V. (2013). Not like us: an investigation into the personalities of New Zealand CEOs. Consulting Psychology Journal: Practice and Research, 65(2), 87–107.

Woehr, D. J., Arciniega, L. M., & Poling, T. L. (2013). Exploring the Effects of Value Diversity on Team Effectiveness. Journal of Business and Psychology, 28(1), 107–121.