Ask Christina: Personalities and Roles

Christina Wodtke
3 min readSep 9, 2022
drawing by cwodtke

Jim asks:

How do you account for personality (or do you?) in leading and participating in teams?

Christina Answers:

Those darn humans! Seriously, one of the bigger mistakes managers is treating people as if they were interchangeable for any given role on any team. The job description doesn’t account for all the ways humans vary in skills, personality and how they handle conflict.

Skills Beyond the Job Description

When I was Director of Design for Search and Marketplace at Yahoo long ago, each of the teams were set up with one interaction designer, one researcher (luxury!) one visual designer and one front end developer. For bigger teams, we might add another couple IxDs or visual designers.

One day an amazing resume came across my desk. He could design, code and did the most incredible animations. I wanted to hire him, but no one could figure out if he should be front end or visual design or IxD. By the time we sorted it out, he had another job.

When we design organizations, we do it on paper or on a screen and it’s so abstract. You make this perfect little chart of roles and reports. But you are literally putting people in boxes and expecting them to click into place like legos. You need people with business, design and tech chops, but if you hire someone who has two of the three, that’s fine! You can make a new org chart.

Mixing the Personality Cocktail

Jim asked about personality, which is different that skillset, but I think they are all part of the puzzle of team design. Personality is critical.

My kid and I have been binge watching Project Runway, and it’s an organizational psychology nerd’s dream. The same person will win on one team and be on the bottom with another.

The losing teams are fight then stop talking. They go off to different corners to work on “their part.” The outfits they make fail epicly.

This will be your project if you don’t consider personality.

Right now, you are probably thinking, well duh. Yet we don’t plan for that beyond running a couple “fit” interviews while hiring.

If you are hiring people for a team, consider a collaboration challenge instead-of or as-well-as the skill interview. Come up with a challenge and then have an existing member of the team and the candidate work together to solve it for 30 minutes. The employee can then make a better guess if they’ll be able to work together. (it’s still a guess since who knows what people will be like once they are working full time, but it’s an informed guess.)

If you are assembling the team from employees then consider personality as well as skills. You want diversity and creative conflict, but not pointless personal clashes. (Check out the norm setting section from The Team that Managed Itself.)

Managing Conflict

Finally, you will get heated conflict at some point (if the team cares about what they are working on.)

Make sure people know how to fight fair.

Consider hiring a coach or run a training on positive conflict. Or read Difficult Conversations and Thanks for the Feedback and become that coach.

No one teaches you how to manage conflict in high school and it’s often an elective in college (if it’s there at all.) This is a shame but also a reality. Make sure your people have all the tools they need to succeed.

Learn More
I recommend this wonderful book:

It not only describes the bad habit but tells you what to do if you are the one with the habit or what to do if someone you work with has the habit. I return to it often!