The use of DISC presents a wide range of possibilities when working with teams. In a general sense, it can help in many areas, including the initial formation of the team and ongoing assessment of its operating effectiveness.
In more specific terms, it can yield invaluable information on particular aspects of the team development process. For example, it can look into the ways that members work together, both as a group and at the level of individual working relationships. DISC also has a useful part to play in understanding the leader’s role in a team, and helping to develop that leader’s effectiveness.
In this section of the Axiom Software site, we look at some of the principles of DISC in a team environment, and also some of the practical ways it can be used to develop and enhance a team’s performance.
Before going on to examine specific applications of DISC in team-building, this section introduces some basic ideas and concepts.
What exactly constitutes a ‘team’? There are many definitions of this term, some broad, some narrow. In fact, DISC can be used to provide useful information an almost any group of people, regardless of their situation. Nonetheless, it will be useful at this point to describe exactly what we mean by the term.
Probably the easiest way to approach a definition of the term ‘team’ is to describe some of the factors that all working teams have in common:
A team works to a remit.
This may be self-imposed, or (more commonly) defined from outside the team; nonetheless, a team must have a clear purpose or purposes.
Team members interact with one another.
Sometimes the term ‘team’ is used to describe a group whose members perform similar tasks individually (as is sometimes found in direct sales), but this is not strictly a ‘team’ in the sense that we are considering here.
A team must produce some result.
This may be tangible (for example, a report or a design for a new wing nut) or less easily defined, but a team that produces nothing has no real purpose.
These three elements help not only to define a ‘team’, but also to measure how effective it is. Does the team work towards its remit? Do the members interact well? Is the team capable of producing the required results? It is questions of this kind that DISC can help to answer.
Before we move on to look in more detail at the workings of teams in DISC terms, it will be useful to consider the team in the wider context of the organisation.
No team works in isolation. The team will also need to deal with outside forces, some positive, some negative, if it is to function with any purpose. Even in an isolated team (for example a very small business), there is a need to interact with customers, clients, suppliers, accountants, tax professionals and many others.
Most commonly, though, the team is not isolated – it works within the umbrella of an organisation, and that organisation defines its role and its expected results. This means that a team will normally have to work within the structure of that organisation, and limits somewhat the activities it can pursue. However, it does grant the advantage of structuring and formalising the points of interaction between the team and its external contacts within the greater organisation.
This concept of the ‘team within the organisation’ is useful in considering the workings of an individual and specific team. In reality, an organisation rarely functions as a cohesive whole – it can in fact be considered simply as a collection of interacting teams (some formally defined, others less so). As we apply DISC to teams, it will often be necessary to refer to factors outside or external to the team, or inherent in the organisation as a whole. Such references can be read as referring to other teams within the organisation, and it is often possible to formally define and analyse these teams themselves, to gain a greater understanding of their dynamics.
We have already commented on the number and variety of team-building and team assessment tools and theories available today. The DISC behavioural profiling tool provides an approach that (so far as we can determine) has not been used, or at least formalised, before. What are its advantages?
- DISC defines behaviour on an individual basis. Rather than speaking of generalised roles within the team, DISC allows us to consider the specific behaviour of a specific individual within the team (although it is also possible to work with more general roles when needed).
- Because of its specificity, DISC can provide analyses not only of team functions in general, but also of specific individual relationships within the team.
- DISC will report on motivations and needs even down to the individual level.
Most of the team theories at work today look at teams in a general way, providing models and ideals – a task they perform admirably. With DISC, however, we can interpret and analyse interactions within a specific team composed of specific individual members.
- Team Factors and Subfactors
- The DISC concepts of Factors and Sub-traits can be applied with little adaptation to teams rather than individuals. In this section, we see how the team-based equivalent of a DISC profile can be constructed and interpreted.
As its starting point for team analysis, Discus Team defines a ‘Team Profile’. This measures four primary factors within the team’s make-up: Direction, Communication, Stability and Productivity. Each of these four factors also has an inverse, so for example a team showing low Direction is said to be Participatory. In this part of the Team-building section, we consider each of these four factors in detail, together with their inverted cousins.
If you are familiar with DISC, you will immediately notice a correspondence between these four factors and the four behavioural elements that DISC interprets for an individual – Dominance, Influence, Steadiness and Compliance. Indeed, Discus Team uses these individual factors as the ultimate basis for the Team Profile. There are, however, some distinct differences between a Team Profile and an ordinary DISC Profile.
It is important to remember that low factors on a Team Profile are quite as important as high factors. On a DISC profile, a low Dominance score would be interpreted simply as a lack of direct, dominating behaviour (that is, a non-assertive style). On a Team Profile, a comparable low Direction score has a positive meaning of its own – it does not merely indicate a lack of direction, but also a heightened level of participation within the team.
A difference between DISC and Team Profiles is also seen where all four points lie close to the central line of the graph. On an individual DISC profile, this condition is referred to as a ‘compressed profile’, and typically considered somewhat negative, usually suggesting that the individual concerned is undergoing stressful conditions. As the foregoing indicates, however, a Team Profile with a similar shape (referred to as ‘Balanced’) has no such negative connotations – it merely indicates that the team balances the approaches indicated. Indeed, such profiles are not uncommon. Especially with larger teams, ‘Balanced’ Team Profiles regularly appear, even where members show quite distinct individual DISC profiles.
- Direction indicates a driving, goal-oriented team, usually with strong leadership. Teams with low Direction are referred to as Participatory.
- Communication, as its name suggests, is found in teams that rely on strong communication and positive personal relations. Where Communication is low in a Team Profile, it is referred to as Applied.
- Stability describes a reliable and predictable team whose members prefer to avoid change. Teams without Stability are referred to as Flexible.
- Productivity is the term used to describe teams whose members concentrate on procedure and quality. Low Productivity results in an inverse factor known as Resourcefulness.
Team ‘Subfactors’ provide a more detailed analysis tool for teams derived from the main Team Factors. If you’re familiar with DISC, you may have come across the principle of the sub-trait – Subfactors work in just the same way. By comparing each of the main factors with each of the others, we can define a total of twelve elements of team behaviour. Each team will show some of these more strongly than others.
As an example, consider the two team factors Direction and Communication. In any given Team, these may be at the same level, or one may be higher than another. A team with high Direction and low Communication will naturally present a quite different working environment to one with high Communication and low Direction.
In this section, we name and define each of the twelve possible Team Subfactors, and give a description of the kind of team environment relating to each. Click on the names of the subfactors shown below for more information on each:
Subfactors of Directed Teams
Subfactors of Communicative Teams
Subfactors of Stable Teams
Subfactors of Productive Teams
Relationships and Dynamics
Strong working relationships between members are the cornerstone of a successful team. Here, we introduce the concept of the DISC ‘Dynamic’, and see how it can be applied in real-world situations to analyse individual relationships and their place in the team.
While we can analyse individual behavioural profiles en masse to provide an overall picture of a team’s likely performance, its everyday functioning is more closely affected by individual relationships within the team. An understanding of the ways that individual members interact with one another can be crucial to developing a clear picture of the way the team works, especially on a short- to medium-term basis. We use the term ‘relationship’ here exclusively to describe bilateral interactions (that is, interactions between two individual team members). Most interactions within the team will take place in such a bilateral manner, or can be considered in these terms. There are exceptions, however, especially those situations in which one member (usually the leader) addresses all the other members of the group. In these situations, the likely actions and reactions of the team are better considered in more general terms.
When analysing an individual relationship between two members, the key concept is that of the dynamic, a concept that describes a specific element of the relationship. In the rest of this section, we’ll consider how dynamics work, and how they can be used to build a picture of the ways in which a relationship can be expected to operate.
Note that an understanding of the way dynamics work is to some extent dependent on a grounding in the basic principles of DISC theory. If you are new to DISC, you may wish to review, especially, the contents of the DISC Factors & Sub-traits section of this site.
Introduction to Dynamics
A dynamic is a basic unit of interaction, derived by examining a combination of two DISC profiles. The number of dynamics within a given relationship is not fixed, but is instead dependent on the complexity of the individual profiles. Some rare combinations yield no dynamics at all, while the maximum number is twelve, for each profile being considered.
To derive dynamics from a combination of profiles, we look at the high and low factors that appear in each of the two individual profiles. For example, if one profile shows a high Dominance score, and the other a low Steadiness score, then the dynamic ‘High Dominance to Low Steadiness’ appears in the relationship (usually written ‘D>s’ for short).
Because the behaviours associated with each DISC factor are known, it is possible to interpret the ways in which the two factors (one from each profile) will interact with one another. This analysis gives us a basis for interpretation of one element of the relationship.
Applying the principle of dynamics to a real relationship within a real team provides some useful insights into the ways in which the two members concerned will interact with one another. By examining each factor on each profile individually, we can construct a list of all the dynamics that bear upon that particular relationship and use this to gain an understanding of the actions and reactions of each of the two individuals.
There are a total of sixty-four possible dynamics, of which up to twenty-four can appear in a given relationship between two individuals (though this is rare).
Because the calculation of dynamics works through an examination of the high and low factors in two profiles, it is necessary that both profiles contain at least one high or low factor. Dynamics cannot, then, be generated where one or both of the profiles under consideration is ‘compressed’ (that is, all the factors lie near the centre of the profile, and none can be considered to be high or low). The same situation applies in reality as well as theory: it is difficult to predict how a member with a ‘compressed’ profile will react within a relationship, and so we cannot reliably attempt to produce an analysis in this situation.
It is important to remember that dynamics have a direction associated with them. They describe the relationship from the point of view of one or other of the members involved. To clarify, consider the High Dominance to Low Steadiness (D>s) dynamic we have already discussed. This describes an aspect of the relationship from specifically the point of view of the highly Dominant member. To see how the other member (with low Steadiness) viewed the relationship we would need to consider the opposite of this dynamic, Low Steadiness to High Dominance (s>D) which would yield a different perspective.
This is an important point to bear in mind. Often, the two individuals concerned have different (sometimes very different) subjective views of their relationship with one another. It is necessary to look at dynamics from both sides to reach an understanding of the way the relationship works.
The exception to this occurs where the factors involved in the dynamic are identical (for example, the dynamic that occurs between to members with high Compliance scores, C>C). In this specific case, the dynamic is ‘symmetrical’, and both members view the relationship in essentially the same way.
Before we move on to look at some examples of relationship dynamics in practical use, it is important to point out the limitation of this approach. Dynamics are a powerful tool in discovering the underlying behavioural workings of relationship, but they cannot take account of factors outside this area. Working relationships are necessarily affected by conditions outside behaviour per se. This applies especially with regard to past actions – members’ views of one another will necessarily be coloured by each other’s previous activities and decisions, whether good or bad. While the underlying behavioural factors remain, such external considerations cannot be interpreted through the concept of the dynamic.
Examples of Dynamics
The easiest way to understand how dynamics work in practice is to consider some practical examples. Here, we will look at some of the more common dynamics, and see how it is possible to extract useful information from them regarding the relationship to which they apply.
The standard dynamic notation, incidentally, simply uses capital letters to denote high factors, and lower-case letters to signify low factors. So, for example, ‘S>S’ would reflect a dynamic between two highly Steady individuals, while ‘c>c’ indicates a dynamic between two individuals who share low Compliance.
Remember that there are a total of sixty-four possible dynamics. The examples shown here demonstrate only a few of the more common manifestations found in working teams.
D>D (Two Highly Dominant Members)
This is a common relationship dynamic in a team showing high Direction, and is most often seen in teams related to sales or higher-level management, as Dominance is a factor closely associated with each of these roles.
Dominant individuals are controlling, demanding and assertive in nature. They rarely refuse a challenge, and are motivated by their own success. If we consider how two such individuals would relate to one another, we will have a basic interpretation of the D>D dynamic.
It is clear that the competitive element of the Dominance factor will have a significant effect on the workings of this relationship. Each member is likely to see the other’s demanding approach as in some sense providing a challenge, and can be expected to rise to this perceived challenge.
There is potential here, then, for conflict and confrontation, especially if the two members see their goals as incompatible. However, this combination can also be highly productive if the competitive natures of the two members are focused correctly.
We can see such focussing at work, for example, in a competitive direct sales team (those working in such conditions very commonly have high Dominance as a significant aspect of their profiles). The competitive urges and the need for challenge inherent in the members’ styles are focused on achieving goals that benefit the group as a whole (high sales targets, in this example, with their attendant rewards).
D>C (High Dominance to High Compliance)
This dynamic represents another aspect of relationships commonly found within a team. We have already seen that Dominance relates to competitive, assertive and controlling behaviour. Where Compliance occurs in a profile, it shows a reluctance to take risk and a need for certainty, together with a concern for quality and precision.
A further important distinction here is that Dominance is an assertive factor. It relates to a willingness to take direct action, while Compliance is passive, meaning that the individual concerned tends to be reluctant to take direct action, and instead prefers to follow the direction of others. This will clearly have an effect on the relationship between these two individuals.
It is likely, then, that the Dominant member will take the lead in this relationship, and the Compliant member will adopt a more responsive attitude, following the lead set by their more assertive colleague.
Note that we say ‘likely’. The dynamic we are considering here is only one component of the relationship between the two individuals. We can be sure that the effect of this assertive-passive combination will have an effect on the relationship, but the precise nature of this effect will depend on other dynamics that may be present. Our highly Compliant member, for example, may also have a high Dominance score in his profile – in this case, the same effects that we discussed under the ‘D>D’ dynamic above would also have a bearing on the relationship.
The D>C dynamic gives us an opportunity to see how aspects of a relationship can be viewed differently by each individual concerned. Because a Dominant style confers an interest in control, and the Compliant individual shows themselves as prepared to accept this, the Dominant member will often assume that they in some sense ‘control’ the relationship.
It is true that, should the Dominant member issue an instruction, the more Compliant member would likely obey it. From the Compliant individual’s perspective, though, the instruction is obeyed simply because this is more convenient and less troublesome than not obeying it. Compliant styles strongly dislike confrontation, for example, and will normally choose a course of action that will avoid this.
One member, then, sees themselves as dominating this relationship, but the other does not acknowledge this, and is simply following the most convenient approach. This is not to say that one is wrong and the other right (such terms do not apply in this context), but simply that each holds beliefs that the other does not share.
Differences of perspective like this are of more than theoretical interest. They can have a very real effect. For example, imagine a situation in which our Dominant member issues an instruction with which their Compliant colleague very strongly disagrees. The Compliant member would see no reason why they should not simply refuse this instruction. Such a refusal, though, would seem extraordinary and highly unreasonable to the Dominant member, and would inevitably cause difficulties within the relationship, and the team itself.
An awareness of differing individual perspectives, then, can help to pre-empt and defuse situations of this kind before they occur.
I>I (Two Highly Influential Members)
Influence describes elements of the personality such as friendliness, expressiveness and openness, in both social and emotional terms. Individuals showing high Influence in their profiles are normally talkative and informal, and greatly value the overt approval or attention of those around them.
This desire for attention is the key to an understanding of a relationship involving the ‘I>I’ dynamic. Each of the two members will be looking for the other to listen to their ideas and to provide positive feedback. Where the two members concerned are able to balance each other’s need for attention (for example, where they share common aims or interests), then this aspect of their relationship is likely to friendly and motivating for each of them.
What may not be obvious in this situation, though, is that there is still a kind of competition in operation – a competition for attention. If this is to be a positive working relationship of the kind described above, it is imperative that each of the individuals involved feels that they are receiving appropriate levels of attention from the other.
- Leadership Styles
- The behaviour of a team’s leader, as defined by their DISC profile, can have a significant on the workings of the team. This section looks at a variety of typical leadership styles and their implications.
The member who fulfils the leadership role will have both a direct and an indirect effect on the team as a whole. The direct effect is usually clear and easy to identify – it consists of the instructions the leader issues or policies they put in
as important, but less simple to distinguish, however, are the leader’s indirect effects on their team. These stem not from the leader’s actions themselves, but from the ways in which they perform these actions – in other words, from their individual behavioural style.
For example, a common (though by no means universal) trait of leaders is the presence of a measure of Dominance in their individual profiles. In cases where this trait is strongly represented, the leader will tend to take an authoritarian and direct approach to leadership, expecting others to follow their direction on the grounds of their designated role, and their dominating, assertive behavioural style. This necessarily makes the team more Directed (in specific terms of Discus Team’s subfactor of Direction), though its other effects will depend on the precise make-up of the team and other factors of the leader’s style.
Because Dominant leaders are common, so is this effect. Other less common leadership styles will also make their impression on the team, though, often in less predictable ways. Consider the DISC factor of Compliance, for example. While by no means as common as Dominance in a leadership role, it does often occur in more technical environments, or in situations where quality is of paramount importance. Compliant leaders will depend on certainty of their position, concentrate on quality and productivity, and prefer a well structured environment. Such a leader will rarely take an authoritative stance, but will prefer to control their team through organisation and planning – we can expect to see them install a procedural and structured regime in order to maintain their authority within the team. Hence, the team as a whole will tend to move towards the more Productive end of the Team Profile spectrum, as they adapt to their leader’s approach.
The Discus profiling software is capable of analysing how individuals will react when placed in a management situation, and Discus Team adapts this technology to examine how a member can be expected to act (in specifically behavioural terms) when appointed as the leader of a team.
The DISC profiling technique gives us a range of tools for analysing an individual’s approach to leadership, and Discus Team takes full advantage of these to describe the team leader’s particular approach. There are as many particular leadership styles as there are individual behavioural profiles, and Discus Team will provide a report for each of these. To illustrate the process, though, we will examine four basic leadership approaches based on the four DISC factors of Dominance, Influence, Steadiness and Compliance.
These four basic styles represent common approaches to the role of leader, and can be viewed as ‘building blocks’ for the more complex styles that arise with more involved DISC profiles. For example, a profile showing both high Dominance and high Influence will typically display aspects of the Director and the Persuader, often switching between these two styles according to the demands of a situation.
A team’s leader does not exist in a vacuum – each team will have different leadership needs that their leader will need to take into account to achieve peak performance. In this section, we see how DISC can help to identify these needs.
An understanding of a leader’s approach to their team is vital to an understanding of the team as a whole, as discussed in the Leadership Styles section. As important as the leader’s demands on their team are, though, equally important to the workings of the team are the team’s demands on their leader. Each type of team will react differently to, and have different expectations from, a leader. From this, we can draw two important conclusions:
- There is no such thing as a perfect leader. As the demands of team members on their leader differ, so the ideal leadership style for the team differs also. Leaders who may be entirely unsuitable for one team may prosper when leading another, and vice versa.
- If a team’s leader can come to an understanding of their team’s expectations and demands, either as a group or as individuals, and adapt to these, the effectiveness of their leadership can be expected to improve.
Leadership demands can be interpreted by examining a team’s Team Profile. Each of the four main factors of Direction, Communication, Stability and Productivity relate to a different basic leadership need.
- Responsibility & Respect are demands usually associated with Directed teams. Where this appears as an important element of the team’s leadership needs, the members are looking for a means of expressing their assertive styles and their desire for responsibility. A leader who can delegate effectively, and be prepared to allow members to take individual responsibility for their own projects, will do well in such a team.
- Praise & Appreciation are seen where Communication is an important factor in the team’s make-up. In such a team, the leader will reap rewards by expressly showing gratitude and appreciation for individual members’ efforts. Members of such teams tend to enjoy informal relations with one another and with their leader – if the leader can foster such relations, while maintaining their position of authority, then the team should work positively.
- Patience & Consistency are elements of a Stable team’s leadership demands. Such teams will look for a consistent and predictable working environment. Sudden changes of direction or policy, however necessary or justified, are difficult for such teams to adapt to successfully. The members here will also be looking for support from their leader, and will hope to be able to bring specific problems directly to the leader for resolution.
- Detail & Explanation relate to Productive teams. The members of such teams work poorly when they do not have a clear idea of their situation (whether in terms of their role within the team, the leader’s expectations of them, or the circumstances of their current work). To gain the greatest motivation from such teams, careful explanation, and a willingness to provide detailed information, should enhance the team’s performance.
As with Leadership Styles, these four aspects represent the fundamental elements of the leadership needs. True Team Profiles tend to highlight more than one factor, however, and have correspondingly more intricate combinations of leadership needs. The Discus Team will provide a specific interpretation of these needs depending on the precise configuration of the Team Profile.
You’ll also find more specific information in this section about the various team factors and subfactors used in DISC analysis. To find out more browse the menu.