The Personality of Teams

Joe Schmidt's research featured in article about Football and how personalities can affect outcomes both on the field and off.


Proj Joe Schmidt

Written by Colleen Macpherson

Joe Schmidt is a big fan of football, not just as a sport but as a living laboratory to help him understand how personalities can aff ect outcomes both on the field and off .

“I’ve always played team sports, and I played football for the University of Calgary as an undergrad,” said Schmidt, an assistant professor of human resources and organizational behaviour in the Edwards School of Business. “I was interested initially in observing the players who were more naturally gifted than I was but didn’t work as hard as they could have. What happened is I got more playing time than they did simply by working harder.”

His curiosity piqued, Schmidt, who played full back, began looking how various personalities come together—or don’t—on a team. When it came time to do his PhD dissertation, he knew exactly where he would focus.

University football teams usually include about 80 players, he explained, “and each position has a unique culture of its own. Defensive backs and offensive linemen, for example, are diff erent subgroups of the team. What I wanted to explore was the personality characteristics of individual players in a subgroup and the traits of the subgroup itself, and how that can predict individual performance.”

To collect data, Schmidt enlisted six of the seven football teams in the Canadian Interuniversity Sports’ western conference. He visited the teams during their training camps, did personality questionnaires with each player, and asked additional questions about group cohesion and norms. Half way through the season, the players were asked about the climate of their subgroup, and if it had changed.

“At the end of the season, the position coaches rated each players’ performance in games and practices,” said Schmidt. But what turned out to be more telling was the coaches’ reporting on what Schmidt termed organizational citizenship behaviours—things like helpfulness and altruism—and on counterproductive behaviours like being too competitive with fellow players.

Schmidt also tracked each team’s game statistics to see if group characteristics enhanced or detracted from on-fi eld performance.

Some of his findings might have been predictable: “when groups have more conscientiousness—players who exhibit traits like being hard working, diligent, prudent and goal oriented—we found that those conscientious players performed even better. If I’m working hard and others in my group are working hard, that creates a supportive environment for everyone. We fully expected that.”

But on the other side of the field, Schmidt found that individual performance did not improve when there were too many extroverts in a subgroup.

“What we found was that highly extroverted players displayed the greatest number of counterproductive behaviours,” he said. “In a group, extroverts will be competing for air time or status or to be noticed, and as a result, they may actually be undermining each other.”

The implications of his research, which was published in the Journal of Organizational Behaviour, in the world of work point at the need to understand personality traits and how they affect a team, he said. For some traits, like conscientiousness, more can be better but for others, like extroversion, “you want to look for some diversity. You always need some talkers and some listeners.”

But Schmidt cautioned against making employment decisions based entirely on personality. “I shouldn’t imply we should take this too far. Personality assessments are valid, but not highly valid. They do predict behaviour but there are a lot of other things going on. “You want to hire people who are qualified to do the job but if they meet that threshold, then you can begin to look at how they will fit in with a team, what they bring to that team.”

Originally posted in the U of S On Campus News - April 24th Issue.

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