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Reason #3 why good employees quit: team fit

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There are four forces of employee disengagement and poor team fit is number three on the list. (Previously we’ve covered poor job fit and poor manager fit, which are reasons one and two.)

Top organizations are built on high-functioning teams. That’s because a team that’s fully aligned is greater than the sum of its parts; team members enjoy enhanced creativity and more successful risk-taking.

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Why employee-team fit matters

Unfortunately, where there are teams, there’s often conflict—even among top performers. Disagreement can arise from a clash of needs, priorities, goals, ideas, or even core values of team members. At best, this creates barriers to productivity; at worst, good employees leave. If team members are out of alignment, once a disagreement begins to emerge, the team will lack the resilience to mediate, and conflict is almost certain to occur.

According to one study cited by Salesforce, 97 percent of employees believe a lack of alignment on a team directly impacts project outcome. Another 86 percent blame workplace failures on lack of collaboration and ineffective communication.

What’s more, 75 percent of employers rate teamwork and collaboration as “very important,” but only 18 percent make communications evaluations part of performance management. This is important because companies that don’t promote and enable collaboration are five times less likely to be high performing.

What it comes down to is this: if your teams don’t gel, your company will never realize its potential.

Understanding the root of team conflict

According to psychologists, there are two types of conflict teams typically encounter: 

  • Affective conflict (personal disagreements between individuals)
  • Substantive conflict (disagreements related to shared tasks or team projects)

Psychologists Art Bell and Brett Hart have also isolated 8 causes of conflict on teams:

  1. Conflicting resources
  2. Conflicting styles
  3. Conflicting perceptions
  4. Conflicting goals
  5. Conflicting pressures
  6. Conflicting roles
  7. Different personal values
  8. Unpredictable policies

Some of these conditions can be controlled through good management, such proper resource allocation and clearly defining roles. But when it comes to conflicting styles, perceptions, and values, it’s all about “fit.”

Many leaders grapple with this idea and ask themselves: If we have good talent, shouldn’t our teams be good, too? The answer to that question is not necessarily.

It’s not enough to hire top talent—you must also know how to assemble high-performing teams.

Managers planning team fit

Symptoms of poor team fit

Here are a few signs your company might be losing people because you don’t pay enough attention to employee-team fit:

  • Team meetings are chaotic or dysfunctional
  • Team members avoid saying what they think and feel
  • Collaboration has turned into people working in isolation
  • Productivity is slower than it should be
  • Workloads are imbalanced, with some overworked employees and others underutilized
  • People are playing the blame-game
  • Employee turnover is abnormally high
  • No one can make a decision—or decisions move at a snail’s pace
  • People are complacent or have reverted to “groupthink”
  • There’s a lot of backchannel communication and “tattling”
  • Conflicts erupt into anger or harsh words
  • There’s a lack of trust among team members
  • Overemphasis on problems vs. solutions
  • Employees are anxious or upset with each other
  • Cliques or subgroups are forming among employees
  • Employees are having the same disagreements over and over without resolution
  • Employees otherwise are a great fit for their job
  • Employees are well-liked and otherwise a good fit for the culture and work environment
  • Employees otherwise understand and practice your company values
  • Employees otherwise get along well with their managers

How to create better employee-team alignment

How can you create more aligned teams? Begin by taking a talent optimization approach to how you hire: before you bring a candidate on board—or shift an employee from one team to another—ensure “fit” between that person and existing team members.

It’s important to foster positive team relationships. Use behavioral assessments to help every employee be more self-aware of the way they come across to others—and more empathetic and understanding of their peers’ communication styles and goals. Feeling valued and respected on a team is critical. Leaders should give frequent and specific feedback, and model expected behaviors.

Align everyone on a shared vision for the team. People who are rowing in the same direction and understand one another’s strengths are less likely to experience conflict. Create a shared vocabulary and team values and talk about them often.

Here are three ways you can ensure better employee-team fit:

  1. Consider the roles people will play on a team: Hiring for team fit, or assembling a team’s composition, doesn’t mean simply piling similar people together for the sake of consensus. On the contrary, a team full of one Reference Profile will be unbalanced and more likely to fail. A good team will include people who can fill all roles: from leaders and motivators to support and detail people. Spending some time thinking about balance up front will help the team be more functional later.
  2. Don’t mistake homogeneity for fit. Some companies looking for a harmonious team will make the mistake of only hiring certain personality types. Team diversity, in both background and work style, is vitally important for good problem solving, and studies show that heterogeneous teams are more innovative and high performing.
  3. Give employees the tools to empathize with and understand one another. To build trust and empower employees to work through disagreements, they must be able to understand other people’s perspectives. Have everybody take behavioral assessments to help teams understand and respect one another as individuals—and build the trust needed for strong teamwork.

If you have PI, you already have the tools you need. Use Team Work Styles to assemble strong, well-balanced teams and give all employees access to the Relationship Guide so they can explore the way they can communicate and collaborate with others.  


Jackie is the SVP of talent optimization at PI. She was born in Switzerland but isn't a dual citizen.

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