Team diagnostic assessments

The science behind effective teams

Nearly three quarters of team practitioners use some form of assessment tool with a team. Whether they are labelled diagnostic, measurement or psychometric is immaterial. Assessment tools are widely used as part of team coaching or consulting engagements and there is often an expectation from teams that they will be utilised in any assessment. This is not surprising as a diagnostic tool can turn something intangible (e.g. how effective is my team really?) into something tangible with clear mapping for the team (e.g. we are clear about where the team is effective and what we can do to improve further.).

Measuring team performance and effectiveness

Mapping a teams journey to success.

Why teams use tools

Teams have long used tools to support them whether this be for assessment or development purposes. Tools can help a team understand itself quickly. They can prove really useful as a starting point for a team conversation and make it safer to discuss potentially tricky or sensitive areas through providing a shared framework and common language. Given the many uncertainties that can manifest within teams, a team tool can provide some calming reassurance and help bring a team together.

Here are just some of the benefits:

  • They help team members to get to know each other better when forming a new team,
  • they give insight for a new team leader joining a team, and
  • they can help to shape a team building programme…

…and the list goes on.

There as many tools available on the market as there are reasons for using them. We decided to do a deep dive into the use of these tools. We considered what was currently available in the marketplace to help teams. We then spoke with team coaches and practitioners to understand which team tools they were using and what was most important about them. Here we share an insight into our investigations, what we discovered and the outcome.

Improving team effectiveness and performance

We asked practitioners what functionality existed in tools they were currently using. They said:

  • They were using tools with a whole team (i.e. not just with individual team members).
  • Tools typically measured team member personalities (MBTI was the commonly used tool overall).
  • The tools chosen had brand recognition with client organisations, i.e. clients had heard of the tool and maybe used it before, which made it easier to introduce and be accepted.
  • The tool they chose was easy to use (by the coach) and easy to understand (by a team).
  • Training to use the tool was easily accessible and fair value for money, and
  • The cost of using the tool was acceptable i.e. the cost of the tool was not cost prohibitive and a barrier to a team using it.

We both recognised and were alarmed by some of these findings. We understood that clients and teams often chose to use tools that they are familiar with and have used before. Similarly, we understand the value for money arguments. We were concerned by other discoveries, however.

For example, we learned many practitioners worked with teams by focussing on individual members rather than the team as a whole. They are related but different. Focussing on individuals alone just won’t improve the team. We were alarmed to hear practitioners were using personality measures and averaging individual team members scores to create a team profile. Like apples and pears, they are different things. Mixing them up creates a skewed profile that is fairly meaningless for a team. Best avoided.

We also saw an over-reliance on personality measures. An effective team is made up of much more than this and includes team composition and structural components as well as task related and team dynamics factors. These were missing from many of the tools in use.

Personalities are generally fixed. Why choose to use a tool that measures something that isn’t changeable when the reasons teams are asking for help is because of some desire for things to be different? We prefer to focus on what can be changed.

Team dynamics – insights and analysis

We then asked practitioners what functionality they would like in a team tool. They said:

  • Measure a team’s effectiveness.
  • Include 360º feedback.
  • Able to compare one team against others and give a comparison perspective.
  • A tool that allows some flexibility in how it can be used with a team, so that coaches can adapt it to their own approach to team coaching.

These seemed sensible requests. Some coaches were gathering 360º feedback anyway and wanted a tool that incorporated this to save doing this through another tool (which would double the price) or manually (which adds significant cost to the start of a team programme).

Mapping a teams journey to success

All of our work is with teams: coaching them; developing them; helping design them and supporting them when they get stuck. We have worked in, led teams, and coached and consulted with, and to, them. We have experienced teams first-hand. We know teams.

We listened to client teams about what was important to them when working with a team tool, and then factored in our experience of working with teams too. Based upon these conversations, here’s what we came up with by way of additional desired functionality in a team tool:

  • Sponsor and stakeholder input to inform the team and its work.
  • Consider current team performance – from both the team’s perspective as well as sponsors and other stakeholders.
  • As teams operate in a context, we wanted to understand what that context meant to a team and the implications of this. For example, a team in a start-up faces a very different set of challenges than a team in a turnaround in a large Plc. business.
  • Like people, teams develop over time and so we wanted a dynamic model of team effectiveness that showed the challenges a team might expect to face and how these would change over time.
  • Many of the tools we saw were great at providing information about a team. While interesting, these won’t lead to much improvement in a team. A focused action plan is needed and so we wanted to create an approach that converted insights into action. We had added the inclusion of action-plans onto our list.
  • Finally, clients (mainly sponsors and senior managers) were wanting to know how their teams were progressing and improving. We thought adding a dashboard into the mix to allow them to view and see this themselves would be useful.

A powerful assessment tool to transform teams

The interviews gave us more perspectives about what mattered to teams in their use of tools and intelligence about what and how practitioners were using them in their work. There were a few surprises and lots of learning.

We scouted around internationally looking for a tool to use that would meet these needs – and were dissatisfied with what we found. Nothing came close to what we were looking for or we believed client teams should expect. Then we had a Rolls-Royce moment:

“Take the best that exists and make it better. When it does not exist, design it. Accept nothing nearly right or good enough.”

With this mantra in mind, we set about researching, designing and creating a new team tool. Four years later, hail teamSalient®.

Tell us whether you think we’ve made it the best team tool on the market. Our own clients seem to think so.


Dr. Declan Woods
Creator, teamSalient®.

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