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Why DiSC Assessments Rarely Improve Teamwork

It’s very common that when a team is experiencing disfunction, such as when people aren’t getting along or working well together, a boss thinks a “fun” teambuilding exercise will cure it. There is a belief out there that taking behavioral assessments like the Everything DiSC Workplace Profile improves teamwork.

Unfortunately, these activities don’t and anyone who has participated in them knows that after they’re over, rarely does anything change back at the office when it comes to actual teamwork. While folks may lean on that new knowledge of work style as an explanation of another’s behavior, what and how the work gets done doesn’t change.

This isn’t to say DiSC isn't a good tool for teams in the workplace. It certainly is. Using this behavioral assessment can build camaraderie within a team, create a common dialogue for work style, as well as build understanding and self-awareness. All important concepts to grasp when working with others.

But they are not the correct and sole intervention for teamwork. Here’s why, teamwork and the success of team performance has very little bearing on who is on the team, such as the experience, style, and competence of individuals.

Team membership does not equal team success.

Research on team psychological safety confirms this but you can also check out what Google learned by studying their owns teams' performance through Project Aristotle.

What contributes to team success is how team members treat each other and how they interact, especially regarding navigating conflict and discussing performance. In addition, effective teamwork is also based on whether there are sound goals and operational processes in place. For instance, if there aren’t clear goals and processes for how the work gets done or there is a culture of avoiding disagreement, no blend of DiSC styles will overcome that.

Teams perform their best when there are 5 components in place:

Psychological Safety This is a sense of confidence that the team is safe for interpersonal risk taking. This means, one can admit mistakes, share concerns, and disagree without being avoided or punished for doing so. Leaders of the team have the greatest influence, but every team member owns it too. Each person speaks up with about the same frequency, which means everyone listens to each other with that same regularity.

Defined Goals Teams are clear on what they are trying to accomplish, as broadly as the overall mission of the team and as narrowly as in a single work meeting. This also means each person on the team not only knows, for example, the top 3 goals for the year but they also articulate those goals in a consistent way.

Clear Roles and Processes Assumptions fill the gaps when roles and processes are not defined. These assumptions can breed stress and conflict. Determining clear roles and processes is what takes the guessing out of teamwork. Common gaps in roles and processes are found in decision-making. Defining who is making a decision (the role) and how that decision is made (the process) are essential for effective teamwork.

Productive Conflict Disagreement is inevitable and helpful. Inviting dissent is what helps teams get to the best solution or idea. It’s best to discuss what to do with conflict before it comes up and better yet, have a process in place to handle it. Teams that handle conflict well don’t see it as something to avoid, rather it is a turning point to something better.

Routine Debriefs This is frequent group and individual feedback with a more positive than negative tone. When positive feedback is free flowing, it establishes trust and respect in the team. This means, when there is a need to debrief work performance that isn’t going well, people are more open to discussing it candidly knowing that their personal performance is not under attack.

As you can see, these five components have very little to do with style. A team could have all extroverts or all introverts, a team full of friends or a team full of acquaintances. That all matters very little. What matters most is how the team interacts and how the operation is running.

That said, there are indeed situations in which a DiSC profile is a useful tool for the workplace. It is great for building awareness of common behavioral styles and how each style may be experienced by others. It is also valuable for uncovering a person’s strengths and weaknesses or motivators and stressors. This knowledge helps individuals understand who they are and how they work.

Where behavioral styles can have the biggest impact is when they are used in conjunction with the 5 components referenced above. For example, there are certain styles that are more comfortable discussing conflict or debriefing performance. But regardless of style, everyone must have the skills to do it. This is where skill-building training may be the next step to improve teamwork.

If you have used DiSC with the intention of improving teamwork, don't sweat it. Maybe you experienced some positive outcomes? But if not and you saw that teamwork didn't improve much, you now know why. Either way, I commend you for focusing on your team's performance. The more leaders who do that, the better.

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Until next time!


Amy Drader is a management consultant and credentialed coach with over 20 years’ experience in HR and operations. She knows first-hand the joys and challenges of leading people and is dedicated to helping managers and teams advance their performance. She is the owner of Growth Partners Consulting, a boutique leadership and team development consulting firm that provides customized training and coaching.


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