Psychological Needs of Teams

Posted 25 July 2023 by
Melissa Summer, The Myers-Briggs Company

1 minute read

What are the psychological needs of teams? And how can understanding these needs help individuals and teams work more effectively together?

In this episode of The Myers-Briggs Company Podcast, we’re joined by Dr. Marta Koonz, Principal Consultant for The Myers-Briggs Company, as she walks us through insights around using psychological needs to better work relationships and improve teamwork.

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In this episode, Dr. Koonz highlights the consequences of unmet needs and the benefits of addressing them, including improved communication, enhanced leadership styles, and increased trust and psychological safety.

“Psychological needs can affect team communication, especially when you think about which of the needs is the most important to you. That Expressed need, the one you give to other people, definitely flavors your communication style,” says Dr. Koonz.

By listening, you’ll gain insights into the connection between psychological needs and emotional intelligence, as well as practical tips for utilizing interpersonal needs within teams.

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Intro: Welcome to The Myers-Briggs Company Podcast, where we bring together thought leaders, psychologists, and personality experts from around the world to talk about work life, home life, and how to get the best from life.




Melissa Summer (MS): In this episode, we explore the psychological needs of teams and their impact on collaboration. Our expert, Dr. Marta Koonz, highlights the consequences of unmet needs and the benefits of addressing them, including improved communication, enhanced leadership styles, and increased trust and psychological safety.


By listening, you'll gain insights into the connections between psychological needs and emotional intelligence, as well as practical tips for utilizing interpersonal needs within teams. Discover how understanding and meeting these needs unlocks team potential and fosters a positive environment for successful collaboration.


Dr. Marta Koonz (MK): [laughter] Exactly, what’s left to say now?


MS: [laughter] Well, what’s left is a little about you, Marta, our wonderful guest today. Marta brings almost three decades of expertise and team development training and leadership coaching to her role as Professional Services Principal Consultant for The Myers-Briggs Company.


She's worked across education, government, corporations, and not-for-profit organizations. As an MBTI master practitioner and a faculty member for various certification programs, she's skilled in facilitating the MBTI®, CPI 260®, FIRO®, and Strong [Interest Inventory]® assessments. She's also a certified coach by the International Coaching Federation, and holds a doctoral degree in Depth Psychology, specializing in Jungian and Archetypal studies. So welcome, Marta.


MK:Well thank you, thank you. I sound so impressive. I hope I can live up to this.


MS: You are impressive.


MS: Would you prefer Dr. Koonz or Marta?


MK: Whichever you prefer. I'm flexible about that. I really don't usually push the “doctor” even though I am, and it's kind of a big deal. But I'll go with Marta. I’m fine with that too.


MS: We'll start with the first question of all these, which is, what are psychological needs?


MK: Hmm, psychological needs, right? So I think the biggest psychological need for anybody is safety. What do we need from that psychological perspective to feel safe? And I think, you know, safety is a big one. And if we sort of unpack that a little bit we can look at – in terms of a team – I need to feel respected. I need to feel included. I need to feel that I have a connection with the people I'm working with. So if I'm going to have an effective team experience, I think those are the things that I really need to make that happen, or that anyone needs to make that happen.


MS: So as far as psychological needs, how do psychological needs affect teams when you have more than one person who might have different needs?


MK:Yeah, I think everyone has their own level of different needs. And so we bounce up against each other. It's almost as if we all have buckets, if you will, for the different needs. And all of us also water each other, right? So it's kind of like, how much water am I putting in your bucket and how much water are you putting in my bucket? And we're looking for that “just right” level. And that doesn't always happen naturally.


So we sort of have to work at it sometimes, to have this awareness of, “Oh, wait a minute. This is how big my bucket is. This is how big your bucket is. Oh, this is how much water I'm giving you. You might need a little more; you might need a little less.”


And the same thing holds true for me, “Hey, could you give me a little more water or a little less water?” So I think if we look at our needs in that way, it's a really helpful visual that we can create about how we interact with other people around those needs.


MS: So in terms of the bucket, you were saying that we have a bucket that we can pour from and other people also have their buckets.


MK: So, say we look at involvement. We all have sort of a bucket that says, “This is how much I want to be involved.” Some of us have a really big bucket: “I love to be involved in groups. I want to be asked to everything. Please everyone connect with me and ask me to go to that meeting or that event.” And other people have this little tiny bucket that says, “Yeah, no, not unless you really need me. Other than that, I'm good on my own. I don't need to be involved.” And other people have medium-sized buckets. We have different sized buckets.


And then all of us have what we call these express needs: how much we naturally look to invite other people, right? To involve other people in things. And some of us are like, “Hey, I'm going to invite everybody all the time.” And other people are like, “Yeah, I'm only going to invite Melissa and maybe one other person and just once in a while.” And so we're looking at that interface of, “Well, how much water do I give? How much do I want people to invite me and include me. And how much do I reach out to try and include other people?” And it doesn't always match. That's where it can get interesting, right? What I look like on the outside isn't always what's going on on the inside.


MS: What happens if, for example, I have a big wanted involvement bucket? I want to be involved in everything, but the people who are on my team maybe have a smaller bucket they're pouring from, so they aren't giving a lot of involvement or they aren't including me. What happens when those needs aren't met, first with individuals and then on teams?


MK: Right. I think we have to remember that the work environment is one aspect of who we are. Hopefully we have some work-life balance, right?


MS: Ideally. [laughter]


MK: [laughter] Ideally. And if that need isn't getting met in the work environment – because sometimes it's just not appropriate. It isn't a fit for the role we have or the team we're on. And so we can think of ourselves holistically. Is that need getting met somewhere else?


And the other piece is to think about, we need to flex. We need to sort of have dialogues and conversations and realize, oh wait, I really don't have a need to be involved as much as my other team members, but because their needs are a little bit higher and it's helpful for the team, I'm going to sort of flex a little bit. Or maybe vice versa. Maybe I like to be involved in everything, but it really- sometimes it's okay for me to dial it back a bit because I have to be considerate about other people too. That flexibility is really important.


MS: It just makes me think too, that so much of the time when we're looking at people in teams and organizations, one of the things – at least the reason I like personality assessments and things like that – is that it is the whole person. And yeah, you could take a personality assessment at work, and it will tell you certain things about yourself, but also you're remembering that your “self” is the same self that goes home and interacts with people at home. Or you know, you have hobbies or you're interacting with neighbors or friends or things like that. And that those needs, they're constant in your life and in yourself. But [it’s important] that we don't just look at it in a work lens.


MK: Yeah. Exactly right.


MS: You might take it at work . . .


MK: Right. Exactly. I think when we use those types of assessments and when we take them to look at ourselves more holistically, that's when they're most beneficial. Because we don't just have, “Here's my slice at work. Okay, now I'm going to switch gears and and here's who I am outside of work.” There's a movie out right now – I don't remember the title of it – where you go to work and then when you leave work, you forget about work when you're in your home environment. Total squirrel. [laughter] But we're not like that in reality, right? We're more fluid than that. And so having this understanding that, “Oh these are my needs, but I'm much more than just this one slice. I'm all these different pieces together.” Yeah, definitely the best way.


MS: And I know you mentioned involvement. There's probably tons of psychological needs, but I think we're, talking mostly about- the FIRO assessment is the one that's looking at needs-based. What are those other needs? And if you could define them for us, that'd be that'd be very helpful.


MK: Yeah. So, the FIRO assessment looks at three core needs and it was developed by Will Schutz. And he came up with these three and said most of our interpersonal needs really boil down to these three. And the three are – depending on which assessment version – involvement, influence, and connection.


So we have this need to be involved in groups with other people. We have a need for influence or sort of directing and sort of having a say in things, right? And then we have a need for connection, which is that more one-on-one connection with other people.


Those three needs can be wanted needs, like what do I want other people to give me? And they can also be expressed. What do I want to give to other people? And this theory says those three need areas really encompass just about everything we have in terms of interpersonal needs. And you can come up with other ones, but I do like the idea of those big three buckets. And I think they do fit pretty well. If I think about my own involvement or interactions with others, I think that involvement influence, connection – yeah, if I can deal with those three, I'm off to a really good start in terms of meeting my interpersonal needs.


MS: I mean, just hearing those, my immediate thought is, “Oh, well, people who want a lot of influence over other people maybe end up in management or in leadership.


MK: Yeah, very much so. That high sort of expressed, you know, “I want to provide that for others.” Those are the folks who are drawn to that leadership role very often. And I think they're drawn to it, but also you can have that lower expressed influence, but just be a different type of leader. Because our needs can definitely impact our leadership style for sure.


So think about, again, expressed and wanted . . . We'll stick with those three: involvement, influence, connection. And the idea is that we have different bucket sizes for each one. And the one that's got the biggest bucket that we pour from tends to really be the core of our leadership style. What do we foster most as a leader?


MS: Oh interesting. Because it’s we what we have the most to give.


MK: Yes. Exactly. And so do I look to foster involvement the most? Do I look to foster- do I give a lot of influence and structure? Or do I look to foster those one-on-one connections with other people? So it can definitely tell us a lot about our leadership if we look at those buckets we pour from.


MS: Out of curiosity, is this assessment – there's FIRO-B and FIRO Business – are those used mostly with leaders? Or what kind of levels have you found that these interpersonal needs and the assessment around them are used in organizations?


MK: It definitely does get used for leadership development. It's a great tool for teams because since it's about interpersonal needs, it's really great to look at groups of people. And that's where it began, being used with groups of people and how they interact with each other and how that understanding of needs can help them to be more effective.


I also love it for relationship coaching and that's on a personal and professional level. So if two people are going to work closely together, it's really helpful to have this understanding of what their interpersonal needs are so they can be a more effective partnership.


MS: That's interesting. I hadn't thought about it as far as the one-on-one relationship part.


MK: Oh yeah. And it gets used a lot outside of the work environment for that reason, for those one-on-one relationships and connections.

 That makes sense. Coming back to the work environment, if I'm a leader and say I have a team, how do I know if people's needs on the team are getting met? Or if there's something that I could be doing differently or that the team could be doing differently to better meet those needs.


MK: I think that gets to that emotional intelligence piece. So emotional intelligence about being aware of my own emotions and needs and how that plays out, but also having empathy and awareness of other peoples’ emotions and needs. I think if I have that emotional intelligence, I’m looking around and noticing what people are doing. And sometimes we're looking for those self-protective behaviors.


Healthy interactions include that involvement: that influence and connection. If we stay with that theme, then if I'm in self-protective mode, I’m not engaging, right? So I'm not seeking involvement, but in a way that's a little more rigid sometimes. I'm not able to flex into that. I'm putting myself before the team, which we all do to some extent. But if I'm not feeling safe, I'm just not going to put myself out there. Even if I have this great idea, I'm not going to look to influence others and share it.

So much of it just comes down to safety. If I don't feel safe in an environment, I'm not gonna try and get involved and I'm not gonna try and have that influence. Then I'm not going to strike up connections with my coworkers.


MS: So you're looking for some behaviors that aren't as connected to the rest of the team, or ones that may seem- more rigid.


MK: Yeah. Because I think there are some people- I think of myself where I've got that lower expressed and lower wanted needs in some of these areas. And so my way is I tend to not be involved in as many things. But if I have sort of a healthy relationship with that, then I'm able to flex when it makes sense to flex. I understand yeah, sometimes I'm on a team. I need to flex. So I'm going to be involved. And sometimes if I'm on a team, I'm the one who really has that idea that I do want to put it out there and try to influence others to do it in this way.


But if I'm not feeling safety, if I don't have that trust, then I'm just going to nope- not going to flex out of my little corner and I'm not going to try and be involved. And even if I have a great idea, nope. I don't want to share it because you know, no one's going to listen to it or I don't feel that I'm going to get heard. So I'm just not going to put that out there. So I tend to get more rigid. I don't take the risks – psychological risks – that come with relationships. Because every relationship has psychological risks for us.




MS: So with these interpersonal needs, if someone is seeing that they need to do some work on it, what would be the next step?


MK: Creating safety is big. And realizing that our behaviors have feelings and self-concepts underneath them. Trying to get at those feelings that are underneath and meeting the needs that are underneath the behaviors, I think can be really helpful.


So if we think about behaviors around getting involved, there's that feeling underneath of: do I feel accepted? Do I not feel accepted? And so as a leader, having this awareness like, “What am I doing that fosters those feelings of acceptance among the people I work with? If we look at connection, there's that sort of underlying piece about likability.


MS: Connection is the one-to-one.


MK: Connection is that one-to-one. And so it's the underlying feelings of, “Am I accepted; do people like me?” It's that self-concept around, “I'm likable.” And so what am I doing to make people feel individually that they're more than a number, that they're a person, that they have value, that I actually care about them, that I'm interested in them?


If I look at the control piece, the influence piece, right? It's very often about respect. Because I'm not going to put an idea out there if I don't think people are going to listen to it, if they're not going to respect my thoughts and ideas. So what have I done as a leader to show respect to people on my team? And when they do share an idea – when they do put their voice out there, when they're brave, right? Because it takes a lot to do that – do I show value? Do I just brush it off? Or do people have that safety around sharing their ideas because they feel respected by the environment?


Because that's what we do as a team leader. We create an environment, a culture. Have we created an environment that's safe, especially in these three big need areas? And have I created an environment [where it’s] safe to be involved, safe to put your ideas out there, safe to connect with people? Then that's a really solid foundation.


MS: It sounds like from the standpoint of the leader [or] the manager, that it's partially related to inclusion as far as making people feel included, safe, that their voices are going to be heard


MK: Right. Exactly.


MS: I realize I'm doing a hand motion of swatting away a fly. [laughter] But yeah, making people feel included and like they're a valuable part of the team.


MK: Yeah. Do we invite them? Right? Do we let them know it matters that you're at the table?


MS: So on the other side, if these needs are being met, what are some of the benefits of knowing – even just knowing about these psychological needs? And then what are the benefits that teams see when all the needs are getting met?


MK: As a leader, or anybody, the benefit of realizing them is that you can have this awareness of, “Are my needs getting met or not?” Because sometimes something's off and you don't realize why. But if you have this framework, you can realize, “Oh, this is why I don't feel connected or this is why I don't feel heard.”And then you can advocate for yourself.


And if I have this awareness as a team leader, I can look around at my team and maybe notice some things that aren't working so well and think about it through the lens of, “Oh, well maybe it has to do with involvement. Maybe it has to do with that respect that comes from being able to have your voice heard. Maybe it does come from that lack of connection with either myself as the leader or with other people.


And if I can have that understanding and then make some changes, I can foster that environment that brings those things to the forefront and builds them. And then we find a team of people that feel like they matter, that they're important.


And when you feel that way, you’re more likely to be productive, be effective, to engage, put yourself into the work, but in a way that's not just about the work. You're doing it because you feel, like you're valuable. And that's a really nice feeling.


MS: Probably a feeling sometimes that's difficult to create if you don't know what dials to turn, what things to change, what to look for.


MK: Right. And that's why I love assessments because each one gives you a different framework to start a conversation. And it’s a lot safer to have a framework instead of saying, “Well you do this and I do that.” But if we talk about it and say, “Well, let's look at our involvement scores. Oh, so the high involvement means this; the low means this. So maybe this is what's going on.” And it just creates a little bit of a distance, but it's still personal. It tends to make the dialogue a lot safer and more productive.


MS: Yeah. Cause it doesn't feel like you're accusing anyone of a negative behavior. It's just a behavior that is different maybe than what I might want or what I'm used to, but a behavior that is for your needs and how you're working.


MK: Exactly . . . Many assessments, but I'm thinking of the FIRO, it's not like a higher number is better or like a lower number is better. They're all good. It's our understanding of what our needs are and our ability to be flexible that really leads to the most productivity and the most sense of well-being.


MS: So speaking of personality assessments . . . how would you use – or do you ever use – the FIRO with other personality assessments? [Do you] pair them or use them together in any way?


MK: Yeah, you definitely can. Usually with the MBTI. I'll use that one because a lot of people are familiar with the MBTI assessment. And we'll start with our first preference pair, Extraversion and Introversion: Are you energized by the outer world? Are you energized by the inner world? And if I bring that together in combination with our FIRO assessment – and we'll look at, let's go with inclusion – and we'll look at wanted inclusion just so I can narrow it down. So do I want to be involved in groups? Do I not want to be involved in groups?


MS: Inclusion and involvement are the ones that are the same . . .


MK: Yeah . . . [depending on] which assessment: inclusion, involvement. Sometimes [we] use them interchangeably, but I think I've been using involvement, so I'll go with involvement. So do I want to be involved in groups? Do I not want to be involved in groups? My MBTI preference [could be] for Introversion or Extraversion – say I have a preference for Introversion. I'm energized by the inner world. That's going to flavor my wanted involvement – not what the number is, but what it looks like on the outside.


So I can have a preference for Introversion and still have high wanted involvement. I really want to be involved, but that involvement is going to look different than if I have a preference for Extraversion. They flavor each other and it really can lead to a deeper understanding when I use multiple assessments together. They each give it sort of a different or richer perspective when I have this understanding of both.


MS: So it's measuring- it's looking at a different part of your personality.


MK: Right. And, how one part of my personality impacts another part.


MS: How do these psychological needs affect communication styles?


MK: When I think of these needs, one, it has an impact that if I have the awareness of these needs, I want to communicate them to others. But it also can affect my communication if I think about which of the needs is most important to me. It might be the one that guides my communication. It's the one that I really look to bring into the conversation. It may be the one that I sort of focus on the most. So my communication can definitely be impacted, especially when I think about that expressed need – the one I tend to give to other people. That can really be a piece that flavors my communication style, I would say.


MS: Who should flex if two people have different expressed and wanted needs? Whose responsibility is it to flex?


MK: When it comes to flexing, I think everyone needs to flex. One of the things we always say in certification training is we all need to flex and leaders need to flex most of all. Gone are the days where – well, I hope anyway – we've learned about effective leadership, that it's not always about everyone just jumps and does it the way that the leader does it. I think leaders need to flex too. And if I want to effectively lead a team, sometimes I'm the one who needs to flex. But don't think it's always the leader either.


I think people on the team need to flex sometimes too. And so if we have different needs – if I have different size buckets [and] you're giving me too much water in my bucket or not enough – I think we need to have a conversation, right? And again, that ticket is we can use this framework to have a conversation about, “Wow, I've got this smaller bucket and it's getting filled too much. What can we do about it?” Then we can have a conversation about it.


And- maybe I think about if I have a small bucket for low wanted involvement, like I don't want to be involved in groups and invited to everything. And maybe I have a conversation with my team and/or my leader and we come to that understanding that it's overwhelming for me to get invited to everything. So we're only going to invite you to the ones that we really need you to be at. So everything else, you'll be a CC and optional.


But if you get an invitation that says [you’re] required for that meeting, it means we really need you there. And it's like, “Oh okay, then I can flex into that. I'll show up to those meetings because I know it's really important for me to be there. And I know that you're not just inviting me to everything, and I get there and my voice isn't being heard.” So I think there's that we both need to flex. And those are the best conversations, when we realize when is it important to flex and when is it important for the other person to flex.


MS: What trends are you seeing in your current work with teams? I know you do a lot of work with different types of teams and different leadership groups. So what are the trends you're seeing in the workplace?


MK: One of the trends I'm seeing is we're moving away from that one size fits all, that there's only one way to do a job. People are working from home. They're working from the office. We've got hybrid workspaces. We're also seeing more flexibility in the hours. There's more autonomy in terms of how we get our work done without sacrificing accountability, right? We're still getting the work done, but we're doing it in ways that meet our individual needs. We meet face-to-face, we meet online, we collaborate live on documents together.


I think the trend is more that. Let's look at what our needs are and then let's figure out a way that we can work together and take care of those different needs. It really brings a diversity and a richness to the work experience with that move to, “Oh, there's more than one way to do a job.

How do we do it in a way that meets your needs and meets my needs?”


MS: For individuals, just as a wrap-up question, what practical advice do you have as far as shifting or bettering the team dynamic?


MK: I think the most important thing is to be brave and start the conversation. If I'm feeling something, then there's probably somebody else on the team who's feeling that way too. There's something going on. So I think the hardest part is starting the conversation.


My biggest advice in terms of how to shift team dynamics is to start. Just start somewhere. And it doesn't have to be huge – but just having those conversations, right? And it's not about bringing it up in a way where I'm complaining about the problem. It’s more offering some observations and then putting out some possible solutions but being really flexible about [what] we have to do. Just saying, “Hey, this is what I'm noticing. I'm wondering if we could do this. What other ideas do we have?” And then start that environment that fosters that collaboration and that conversation.


MS: Perfect. Thank you so much Marta, for joining us on this podcast. I really appreciate your time and expertise. It's been a great conversation.


MK: You are very welcome. It was a true pleasure to be here with you as always. I definitely enjoyed myself. It’s always fun to talk about this, and to talk with you. That's an added bonus, so thank you.




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