Would you rather work with a highly competent colleague with poor people skills – or a friendly one who still needs guidance at every turn?
Forget self-centred rock stars. When it comes to handpicking teammates at work, people tend to value colleagues with great social skills more than they would peers with high technical aptitude.
Trustworthiness and reliability trump competence in team member selection, according to a study from Binghamton University in New York.
Being part of a "star team" is thus different from working with a "team of stars". While the ideal scenario is to collaborate with members who have a combination of knowledge, expertise, technical skills and a winning attitude towards their peers, experts say that in most cases employees are much more open to working with colleagues who have a can-do attitude – no matter if these co-workers aren't necessarily star performers on their own.
"We assume that people are selected for important task forces and teams because of the knowledge, skills and abilities they bring to the table. However, this research suggests that people may often get picked because team members feel comfortable with them," said Cynthia Maupin, assistant professor of organisational behaviour and leadership at the university and one of the researchers.
"People may be willing to sacrifice a bit in terms of performance in order to have a really positive team experience."
The study enlisted MBA students who were instructed to assemble their own teams and explain their choices for members. The aim was to determine how members were selected based on their human capital (competency) and social capital (friendliness and trustworthiness). These were measured in terms of their use of a:
• Challenging voice – which welcomes disruption and change
• Supportive voice – which prioritises social cohesion, camaraderie and trust
The most sought-after team members exhibited a balance of their challenging voice and supportive voice. However, people whose strength lied solely in using their supportive voice were more likely to be selected than peers who relied more on their challenging voice.
Faced with pressure at work, teams are inclined to select members who won't ruffle feathers and cause interpersonal issues.
"When people feel like they can trust you, even if you're not necessarily the best worker, they're going to be more likely to want to work with you," Maupin explained.
The key takeaway for anyone looking to earn people's trust is to connect with them on a personal level. That is, to use their supportive voice to win over colleagues, the study found.