The 9 Questions Model of Team Effectiveness

The 9 Questions Model of Team Effectiveness

The high-performing, high-learning team

Where do high-performing, high-learning teams come from?

If you believe the status quo, it’s a simple question of starting with the right people, a bit of social ‘team building’, and then hours clocked working together… and hey presto, a High-Performing Team.

That’s what we find most team leaders do: put together or join a team, book a team-build, maybe run through a psychometric if you’re a fan of data, and then get down to business. Even if you’re holding regular retrospectives, you’ve probably found these focusing on the tasks the team performs, rather than the effectiveness of the team itself.

At CharacterScope, we see team development as a continuing journey, one that is unique to each team, and delivers real and significant performance benefits. It can be enjoyable, frustrating at times, and deeply rewarding. We find the 9 Questions Model of Team Effectiveness is both a perfect starting point for teams keen to develop themselves and become a high-performing, high-learning team, as well as a continued roadmap on the journey. It’s a way of providing structure and direction to your team development.

The 9 Questions model builds directly out of the 9 Leader types from the CharacterScope framework, so the more familiar you are with the CharacterScope framework, the easier a team will find it to orientate its development. But even in its own right, the questions asked by the model can turn a team’s focus to what is important to develop right now.

The 9 Questions

So, we have 9 straightforward questions to ask you and your team:

  1. are we disciplined in working to improve our effectiveness and performance?
  2. do we know where we are going and believe we are doing something meaningful?
  3. do we know how to achieve our goals?
  4. do we get the best from each other?
  5. do we push through obstacles and setbacks?
  6. do we know who to influence and how?
  7. do we spot and capture opportunities along the way?
  8. have we brought our purpose to life and feel motivated?
  9. do we create and innovate?

If you have got clear and positive answers to all of them, and if the rest of your team and stakeholders agree with you – congratulations! You’re already a guaranteed high-performance, high-learning team. Of course, there’s plenty you can do to keep honing your edge as a team, finding ways of keeping yourselves sharp and finding routes to break-through performance.

Let’s explore the different elements…

Team disciplines

We often find ourselves returning to the central question in the model: to the team disciplines. These are disciplines that form the core of team performance and development. 

Why disciplines? Quite simply, if you watch any sports team, music group, theatre group or any other performance group you will see one clear difference to most business teams. It’s that they rehearse, practice and train together so that, come their performance, they are as united and as effortless in playing together as possible.

By contrast, most teams in business and organisational life focus the vast majority of their time on performing the task at hand and very little on the disciplines of development: working at getting better at working together.

New teams

If you’re a new team, or new to team leadership, the chances are you won’t know the definitive answer to the 9 Questions yet, so we would usually recommend you focus your energies initially on the ‘foundational four’ questions:

Exploring these questions will help you rapidly create a team that is clear what its purpose is, feels motivated to achieve its goals, has a good enough idea how to reach these goals, and has set a foundation of inclusion and valuing of each team member’s contribution.

The performing team

If you’re a team that’s been together for a while, there’s a good chance you’re already clear about your goals and what you need to do to get there. You may also be clear about each team members’ role and contribution, how the team can get the best from each other. In other words, the ‘foundational four’ questions are clear to you.

But you may feel that there’s a performance break-through your team needs to achieve, in which case the ‘central three’ questions could be just what you need.

The established team

If your team is well established and has been performing strongly for a while, it may be time to shake the team up a bit and see if it can find new opportunities, new innovations, new energy to take itself to the next level.

Exploring these four questions will guide you as a team to find fresh energy and inspiration.

Team Effectiveness Review

A structured way to start is with what we call a ‘team effectiveness review’: it’s a quick way of getting your team’s views on the 9 Questions and serves as a diagnostic as to where your team should focus its development. You can answer as team members, but also ask customers and other stakeholders outside of the team whose opinion you value.

At its simplest, just rate each question on a scale of 1-10, then go back and pick a single question which you think represents a key strength that your team should cherish, and finally pick a single question which represents the area the team most needs to improve. Where is there consensus amongst respondents? What are the different perspectives?

You can visualise the results in several different ways. Here’s an example that shows the spread of responses you might get:

Why wait?

The 9 Questions Model of Team Effectiveness is designed to give you a comprehensive road-map to creating a high-performance, high-learning team: a team that combines Team Unity (having a united and strong identity) and Team Fluency (being great at playing to each others’ strengths).

Starting with a team effectiveness review, holding a workshop to explore the results, then choosing an area to focus on is a great way to kick-start your team’s development. If you’re already a CharacterScope member, take a look at the 9 Questions Model playlist to begin, otherwise try a free 14-day of CharacterScope Teams and get started on your own team journey.

Benefit of the doubt? The Innovator and Self-belief

Benefit of the doubt? The Innovator and Self-belief

I was lucky recently to interview Shaun Pulfrey, the creator and owner of the Tangle Teezer company. I was struck by how important his story about self-belief has been to the creation of the Tangle Teezer products. Having struggled with formal education, along with receiving messages about respecting your elders and betters, it would have been easy for Shaun to doubt himself. But his desire to innovate and create products that wouldn’t damage hair was too strong and, at first single handedly, he set about turning his ideas into reality. 

So, let’s distinguish an Innovator from an Entrepreneur. An Entrepreneur starts by looking out into the market – where is there a gap? Or where is there an existing product I can apply to a parallel market (Netflix is a subscription service that existed for films and TV, which Audible piggy-backed on with its subscription service for audio books)? Or how can I put two products together (Uber Eats uses Uber cabs to deliver food to people’s homes)? Entrepreneurs wouldn’t dream of starting unless they knew where the market opportunity was.

Innovators on the other hand see stuff differently and are prepared to risk challenging the norms. They want to create things that either don’t exist but would just be interesting to design, or that solve a real problem regardless of whether there is a market opportunity for what they design. The idea comes before the sale. 

To be an Innovator you have to have the courage to believe enough in your idea that you will risk following it through, even when it might fail. And certainly, the innovators we talk to describe their relentless desire, or the itch they have to scratch, which means they can’t stop creating wherever they are or whatever is going on around them. 

But they also describe that sense of self-doubt or fragile self-belief that means any criticism from others, or just the feeling that they haven’t done justice to the idea that was in their minds, can often lead them to back off or just give up.

While low self-belief is very common for Innovators, developing much deeper self-belief is key to being able to bring the great ideas to fruition and launch them to the world. Shaun talks about the moment he decided that his product was good enough and his decision that he didn’t need to listen to the voices of his elders who had doubted him. He could believe in himself and make this work.  Our founder, Mark Loftus, at CharacterScope similarly talks about how he has learned and is still learning to trust in himself and his ideas so that even if they are not ‘perfect’ he can believe that they are so much better than not having them out there at all.

What we have come to realise and is personified in Shaun Pulfrey is that when innovators have high self-belief alongside high humility it is a particularly powerful combination. As Shaun says, you have to get close to the people giving you feedback, to really hear what they are saying and to take their feedback into your creations. For feedback not to cause you to give up but to serve as the inspiration to improve and spark the next creation.

Listen to Shaun’s full interview here.

Visit Tangle Teezer.

Beautiful, Critical Data

Beautiful, Critical Data

Beautiful data, critical to understanding people and teams

We live in a truly fascinating and complex world. People, in particular, never cease to surprise us – both in good and bad ways! At CharacterScope we embrace the complexity and diversity of people, and we’re naturally curious about what data can tell us about them. We can’t help but look at a network diagram of our viewpoints ‘universe’, below, without wondering what causes the patterns and trends that we can see clearly emerging before our eyes. (Click on the image to explore it in full 3D)

3D network visualisation of the CharacterScope Viewpoints Network. Click the image to explore in full 3D.
Beyond curiosity, there are also pressing, urgent questions that our work asks of us. Challenges that we face around performance, diversity, and growth. And often, the answers lie in our people. But figuring out the right answers as business leaders can sometimes feel like divining for water. It’s so tempting to look for clear-cut answers. But genuine data on real people is rarely clear-cut: it’s rich, nuanced, beautiful, and subtle. Trends and correlations tend to be modest. Rather than shouting at you, the data whispers. But by listening carefully, with an open mind, it can give you a significant edge. Not clear-cut answers, but a 20%, 60%, or 70% edge.

Diversity of teams

We work with a lot of teams, and naturally we get to see a great deal of diversity and richness. We see ‘teams’ which might perform better as separate cohesive sub-teams; teams oozing diversity but lacking a shared foundation; teams with a clear set of shared values but lacking resilience and diversity in an environment where it’s clearly needed. Data, whether it be a team solo or viewpoints report, a visualisation or bespoke analysis, prompts the conversation and leads to action where it’s needed.

Showing a team their ‘similarity’ network, like the one below, is truly fascinating. It’s a chance for a team to have a conversation about their specific diversity – a conversation grounded in fact. What does the structure of the team feel like? I look like an outlier; what does that mean to our team in practice? We’re thinking about hiring X; how would that look, and what would it mean for us as a team? Network diagrams like this are great for showing clusters, cohesion, diversity and outliers. Like the greatest teachers and coaches, well-presented data won’t give us easy answers, but it can prompt us to ask the powerful questions that need asking.

Network Similarity Diagram for the CharacterScope Core Team

This is the ‘similarity’ network for our core team at CharacterScope, simply showing members who are more similar in character as closer together, and those more different as further apart. You might say that the team is grounded at one end by our key founder, Mark Loftus. But there are so-called ‘outliers’ – like Lisa and Dan, who work quite differently, with different and complementary sets of strengths. This team functions well because of that diversity. Interestingly, we have noticed that dissimilar pairs tend to work remarkably well within a team (a subject for another time)!

Organisational insight

Stepping up a level from teams to the organisation, we get a different perspective. Teams become points of reference, individuals become anonymous but crucial ‘data nodes’, and we can look at our people in a number of fresh ways. As business leaders, we can start to ask questions about the relationships between teams and, crucially, about the effectiveness of our organisation as a whole. What are our key strengths? Our gaps? The violin plot below gives an example of how we might understand our organisation’s critical ability to maintain direction, compared to another division or organisation.


Spot the difference – a violin plot comparing ‘Sets Direction’ across two organisations
The power of data

Exploring data, especially in a visual way and with an open mind, can truly open us up to insights and lead to effective action. We know that it grounds us in reality, and if we stay honest, it can give us the ‘brutal facts’ (to coin James Stockdale’s phrase) that free us to actually make the best decisions. That might mean adjusting the way you hire, re-imagining your performance review process, having fresh conversations as a team, or deciding to take your own personal growth in a new direction. At least with the right data, the power is in your hands.

CEO strengths and weaknesses – The European Magazine

CEO strengths and weaknesses – The European Magazine

The strengths and weaknesses of a superhero CEO

Mark Loftus for The European

Building purpose into a business is an admirable ambition. But these ‘heroic’ leaders still have weaknesses to balance out their strengths. During ten years as Unilever CEO, Paul Polman became highly regarded as a corporate change champion, encouraging the firm to adapt its thinking and give back. (CEO strengths and weaknesses)

When revealed he would leave in 2018, chairman Marijn Dekkers called him “one of the most far-sighted business leaders of his generation” for redefining responsible capitalism. As someone who’s professionally analysed and coached leaders for over 20 years, Mr Polman’s recent reference to so-called “heroic chief executives” struck a chord with me.

Are those people really protecting the defenceless once they leave the office, charging around in masks and capes? Well, yes and no.

Discussing inequality and climate change, Mr Polman said: “The fact we are having these issues of populism and schisms in society is exactly because we are not addressing the underlying issue to evolve capitalism and make sure it works for everybody. [We need] heroic chief executives willing to step up and move outside of the comfort zone and take personal risks. I tried to do the same with Unilever.

It’s a matter of willpower.” Bruce Wayne – or Batman – is a prime example of a hero driven by an unwavering energy to use his wealth and intelligence for good. But who are some of the real-world examples of “heroic chief executives” Mt Polman has referred to? And, given every hero has a flaw, how can they manage their weaknesses?

Richard Branson

Richard Branson’s Virgin empire has spanned everything from music to space. In 2004 he launched Virgin Unite, a charitable foundation funded directly by the business and Mr Branson. (CEO strengths and weaknesses)

To read the piece in full on the The European website click here and go to page 48.

Previous Business Vision article.

Business Vision – Hidden secrets of the Innovator

Business Vision – Hidden secrets of the Innovator

Hidden secrets of the Innovator
Mark Loftus for Business Vision

Innovators: entrepreneurs taking risks, investors with confidence in their own judgement, colleagues who find the new angle. What makes them tick?

You may assume they are filled with self-confidence, but not every innovator is (or at least has not yet been recognised as) the next Jobs, Gates or Musk. They could well be quiet and unassuming, and not display their potentially explosive talent. You may sense from them underlying unease or tension, a symptom of the dark side that leads them to discovery and invention.

Whoever they are, they are in demand with the world’s business leaders. Leadership teams are learning to identify and attract them, and ensure that they arrive once they’ve been lured in.

Novelists, musicians and artists all create, but innovation goes further. It means experimentation, time-wasting, risk-taking, being prepared to search for something that may not exist… or even be possible.

Ironically, based on the reports of 7,000 CharcterScope users surveyed, innovators are likely to be low in self-belief. They often doubt their own work, and are constantly evaluating and dismissing their own ideas before they’re properly formed.

Their colleagues can inadvertently add to the problem by being over-critical, or fretting about potential risks and downsides too early in the piece.

Managing Innovators requires care and nurture. Some will need encouragement, to be told when to push on, and when to quit. But identifying the innovators in a company is not always straightforward. Data shows that many people whose pattern of strengths indicating a strong fit to the innovator will be invisible because of that lack of self-confidence.

What’s more, fresh ideas are fragile things: subjected to too much scrutiny too early, they will shrivel and die (unfortunately reinforcing self-doubt in the process).

To nurture the spirit of innovation, think more like a midwife than a surgeon: be encouraging and supportive, and guide when you can in what is often a messy and disruptive process.

If you are the innovator, try to find a creative mentor who is willing to support you. The most satisfying part of innovation is doing it with like-minded people, working co-operatively.

To read the piece on the Business Vision website click here and go to page 50-51/112.

Read Benefit of the doubt? The Innovator and Self-belief.

HRreview – Why it’s time to disrupt talent management

HRreview – Why it’s time to disrupt talent management

Why it’s time to disrupt talent management
Mark Loftus for HRReview

“The shift from Talent to talents, from the few to the many, and from talent planning to talent leadership depends on creating and embedding and building a culture of leadership. And this must start with an organisation’s talent professionals.”

To read the piece in full on the HRReview website click here.