One of the biggest “a-ha” moments that happens when I am facilitating a Myers Briggs team building workshop activity is the moment when I have participants sign their name on the grid in the box associated with their personality type. It is an “a-ha” moment for several different reasons. First, it allows participants to see who is like them in type and explains why some individuals get along so well with one another. Second, it allows participants to see who is the complete opposite in type and explains where there could be conflict. Third, and most importantly for this post, it shows where the team has imbalances or gaps that could explain some of the struggles the team has a whole.
The Myers Briggs Type Indicator is a tool developed from the personality theory developed originally by Carl Jung. Jung’s theory proposed that individuals seemingly random personality traits are not random but a part of an innate preference. Individuals who take the Myers Briggs Type Indicator find out their four letter personality type. These four letters indicate how an individual gains their energy, how they take in information, how they make decisions and how they organize their world. Understanding a co-worker’s personality type in these main areas can improve communication and overall teamwork.
Because our work is focused in the startup and small business space, the resulting grid after a team has signed the box corresponding to their type often has a few gaps on it. There are sixteen types. Often the teams I am working with do not have 16 team members. It would be an anomaly to have every type represented and evenly distributed, even with larger teams. Gaps or uneven distribution aren’t necessarily a bad thing, but they can be very telling.
Let me give you a couple of examples.
In my most recent workshop with a small business team of 14 individuals, there were 11 extroverts and 3 introverts. Being an introvert myself, I immediately sympathized with the introverts on the team. Once we talked through the differences between introverts and extroverts, several of the extroverts expressed how they now understood why certain team members acted the way they did in meetings. Others even apologized to the introverts for “likely driving them crazy with all the talk”.
Over the summer, I conducted a workshop for a team of 7. All 7 personality types ended with a P (perceiving). When it comes to deadlines, this type reports doing their best work at the last minute. That thrill of knowing that a deadline is looming cranks up their creativity and makes them more productive. The problem for this team is that their work required steps. One step could not be completed until the one before it finished. One employee could not start on their process, until the employee who owned the step before them completed their work. Until now, they had all viewed the final deadline as their deadline which meant everyone was running around the day before trying to get everything done. Their lack of a J (judging) type on the team who might have realized that deadlines needed to be incremental (as that is the way they like to work) had meant a ton of missed deadlines for this group. They thought it was a system problem or a product problem. What they really had was a personality gap.
Each individual on a team works in a way that is comfortable for them. This is why two people can have the same job but go about it in vastly different ways. If they are both accomplishing their goals then neither way is better. For this reason, leaders who try to force all employees to work in a manner that is best for that leader, struggle. It is always more productive to meet people where they are then force them into a way of working that is uncomfortable.
When you have personality gaps on a team, the team may be lacking the strength that the personality brings. My example of the team of 7 above is a perfect example of this. When those gaps exist leaders need to know how to tap into the talents of the team to fill that gap. They can also be more deliberate about hiring to a personality strength in the future. That isn’t to say hire to an exact Myers Briggs type, but the strength that the type brings.
Understanding the personality type of teams helps leaders to know how to best deal with each individual. It also highlights where the team has innate strengths based on personality which allows them to exploit those strengths to the fullest. Finally, understanding personality type helps a leader identify gaps or areas of imbalance and set a course to correct those areas through employee development or in the hiring process.
I’ve used Myers Briggs in this post because I am a certified Myers Briggs consultant and use it in my team building exercises and MTBI personality based workshops. It would be irresponsible of me to say that it is the only tool out there that allows leaders to understand personality type or that you even need a tool. Even if I do think they can help tremendously, I know they aren’t necessary for team improvement. The bigger picture is that leaders should take stock of the personalities around them and note the strengths, weaknesses and the differences between how each one prefers to work. Taking the time to study these things will only make the leader better. It will ensure that he or she knows how to lead each person as an individual and then together as a team.
It is much more effective than forcing all employees into one way of thinking or working. More effective and more productive.