Psychology and Relationships

The personality trait more managers are hiring for right now: The 'star system' doesn't 'work for us anymore'

Compassionate Eye Foundation/david Oxberry | Digitalvision | Getty Images

The underlying thesis of most career advice is to outshine your co-workers. Lean in, speak up, stay late — all of these emphasize independent success. 

But recently, managers are starting to prize a different trait: agreeableness. 

In situations with high levels of uncertainty, agreeableness has shown itself to be an asset, according to a new study published in Collective Intelligence.

"People are endorsing cooperation and agreeableness much more than they did pre-pandemic," says Randall Peterson, a co-author of the study and professor of organizational behavior at the London School of Business. "The pandemic really showed people the value in being this kind of even-tempered, cooperative type rather than the star who wants to put themselves in front of everybody." 

'The star system is not going to work for us anymore'

The wide-reaching study analyzed data during a 10-year period. Researchers studied almost 3,700 individuals on 593 teams who were working on more than 5,000 group tasks. 

All study participants took a 242-question personality assessment, which recorded how much of each of the Big Five personality traits they might have.

The Big Five personality traits are:

  • Neuroticism 
  • Extraversion
  • Openness 
  • Conscientiousness
  • Agreeableness

Neuroticism decreases team performance, according to the study, especially when uncertainty is involved in the group task. Alternatively, extraversion, openness and conscientiousness all improve team performance, even when uncertainty is involved.  

This is consistent with prior findings, Peterson says.

Past research on agreeableness, though, has shown the trait to be "mostly irrelevant" to completing tasks, Peterson says. 

"Historically, having people [on your team] who are agreeable is either not helpful or potentially distracting," he says. 

But this new research shows that agreeableness does lead to higher team performance. 

It's likely, Peterson says, agreeableness was always useful, just not noticed. Partly because such an acute emphasis has been put on individual success in the workplace.

Two cooperative people will outperform two competitive people every time.
Randall Peterson
professor of organizational behavior, London School of Business

"The basic truth is if you have one competitive person and one cooperative person, the competitive person will always win," he says. "However, two cooperative people will outperform two competitive people every time." 

Agreeableness might be valued more now because challenges in today's workplace, like tackling a return-to-office strategy or creating a new hiring criteria, often don't have one right answer, he says.

Someone who exerts dominance in order to be the one to come up with the solution might do more harm than good. 

"The world we live in is increasingly reminding us that the star system is not going to work for us anymore," Peterson says. 

A person who humble, cooperative and good at engaging in conversation, though, is useful while addressing issues that live in a more grey area.

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