Using the Myers-Briggs personality test for teams

Collaboration is essential to open organizations. But what happens when coworkers don't get along?
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6 readers like this
left and right brain

Opensource.com

Writing about collaborative, peer-to-peer teamwork in The Open Organization, Jim Whitehurst stresses the importance of:

  1. Encouraging team members to speak freely and honestly
  2. Encouraging team members be courageous enough to differ
  3. Selecting team members committed to achievement
  4. Selecting team members with the willingness to be accountable for a group's decisions

Those are four critical aspects of peer-to-peer work in open organizations, but they all presume something even more fundamental: that everyone on the team will get along.

You may know your teammates' knowledge, desire, experience, and skills, and you probably understand that all these things are important for the success of both the community and the goals you're striving to achieve—but that doesn't necessarily guarantee you'll work well with them. So, what do you do?

I've run into this problem before. For years, I've given vehicle sales seminars in more than 60 countries around the world, and I've experienced this problem in vehicle dealerships. Understanding cultural differences in each region, I struggled with ways I could help departments in the vehicle dealerships to collaborate more closely. (Specifically, I wanted to set up an interdepartmental introduction system that helped the Vehicle Sales Department, the Service Department and the Parts Department collaborate to increase customer satisfaction.) But, I couldn't get the departments to talk to each other.

Exploring personality types

Eventually, I discovered that each department had its own personality. People in sales tend to be very talkative; they like meeting lots of people every day. People in the Parts department like working with inventory numbers rather than people, as they forecast future demand. And people in the Service department like working with their hands, and quite often alone.

To get everyone working better together, I began studying personality types, prepared a presentation on them, and started giving seminars to dealerships jointly with these departments. Here, my main source of insight was the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI), as it transcends cultural differences and seems applicable in any region of the world. I asked people in each department to determine their individual personality types, and then to categorize the personalities of their teams. Then, I instructed each department to share their types with the other departments.

It was a big success, and the dealership departments started to understand and cooperate with each other much more.

Putting personalities to work

Here's what worked for me: I think it's best to have people determine their preferences and personality types first.

For example, notice the below questions:

What energizes you and gets you excited?

  • Are you a person who draws energy from the outside world of people, things, activities or interaction most of the time? (Keywords: external, outside thrust, talks out, thinks of many things, involved with people/things, interaction, action, do-think-do)
  • Are you a person who draws energy from the internal world of ideas, emotions or impressions most of the time? (Keywords: internal, inside thrust, hold back on comments, thinks deeply of few things, involved with own thought, work alone, reserve, think-do-think)

People who identify with the first question (and set of key words) are mostly extraverts (E). People who identify with the second set are mostly introverts (I).

Where do you put most of your attention?

  • Do you prefer to take in information through the five senses, noticing what is here and now most of the time? (Keywords: The five senses, what is real, practical, present orientation, facts, using established skills, utility, step-by-step)
  • Do you prefer to take in information through a "sixth sense," noticing what might be most of the time? (Keywords: sixth sense, hunches, what could be, theoretical, future possibilities, insight, earning new skills, novelty, leap around)

People who identify with the first question (and set of keywords) prefer sensing (S). People who identify with the second set prefer intuition (N).

What do you value most when making a decision or judgment?

  • Do you prefer organizing and structuring information and deciding in a logical, objective way most of the time? (Keywords: head, logical system, objective, justice, critique, principles, reason, firm but fair)
  • Do you prefer organizing and structuring information to decide in a personal, value-oriented way most of the time? (Keywords: heart, value system, subjective, mercy, compliment, harmony, empathy, compassionate)

People who identify with the first question (and set of keywords) prefer thinking (T). People who identify with the second set are better at feeling (F).

What do you show outwardly most of the time?

  • Do you prefer living a planned and organized life and are strong on decision making most of the time? (Keywords: plan oriented, regulate, control situation, settled, run one's life, set goals, decisive, organized)
  • Do you prefer for living a spontaneous and flexible life and are strong on information gathering most of the time? (Keywords: spontaneous oriented, flow along, adapt to situation, tentative, let life happen, gather information, open, flexible)

People who identify with the first question (and set of keywords) prefer judging (J). People who identify with the second set prefer perceiving (P).

Armed with answers to the above questions, you can more easily determine your personality type. There are 16 types:

 

ISTJ

ISFJ

INFJ

INTJ

ISTP

ISFP

INFP

INTP

ESTP

ESFP

ENFP

ENTP

ESTJ

ESFJ

ENFJ

ENTJ

 

Once you're comfortable with your preferences and type, try to determine the type of that member in your group who's hard for you to work with. While working with that person, sprinkle a few strategic questions among project-related ones, so you can determine the personality type of the person working with you.

It's important to note that there is no "good" and "bad" type. Each has strengths (things those people are good at and like to use) and weaknesses (things those people are not so good at and don't like to use). To find out what those strengths and weaknesses are, you can read about each type.

Keep it confidential and flexible

As you make your determinations, you might consider keeping them confidential. I do this, for example, because I'm only observing someone in a single situation, and don't want them to think I'm letting that situation completely determine how I perceive them. Sometimes, people behave in ways they consider appropriate for the situation, even if that behavior conflicts with who they are at heart. Some bosses might believe they need to talk a lot in meetings, for instance, even though they are really very quiet people normally. Also, I like to continue to make observations even after I think I've determined a type, so I make adjustments as conditions (and people) change.

Manage your interactions

Now that you know your type and have a pretty good idea of others', you can start managing your behavior to achieve the best results. In most cases, other people in your organization will thank you for doing this, as you can help them by doing things they might not like to do (public speaking for the Introverts, for instance). In the end, it will make peer-to-peer discussions and decision-making far more productive.

Ron McFarland has been working in Japan for over 40 years, and he's spent more than 30 of them in international sales, sales management training, and expanding sales worldwide. He's worked in or been to more than 80 countries.

12 Comments

Been there, done that. About two decades ago, our VP bought in to this concept and brought in a psychologist to do the test and presentation for all of the developers in his division. I was surprised to find that both I and the project manager I got along with best were classified as INFP, which at the time was considered very rare. Unfortunately, his manager did not believe any of it, so while it helped many of us in the group get along better, he completely ignored it while assembling project teams, nor did he pay any attention to it when hiring new developers. This resulted in some unnecessary internal conflicts as well as several sub-optimal selections of prospects for some key positions that never did fit into the group, and quickly decided to move on. These errors cost us months of development time we may have been able to save had he paid better attention.

Yes, I have seen MBTI ignored, misused and misunderstood.

In selecting candidates for positions or groups, of course MBTI type is only one criteria. Other factors are equally important too.

There is no good preference or bad preference. One just has to work harder when thinking about something he doesn't particularly prefer.

When people are exactly the same, they tend to get along is easily, but there might be blind spots that both overlook. You mentioned being an INFP. I am the exact opposite than you. I'm an ESTJ. I welcome our differences, as you will prefer looking at things from a different perspective that I might not even think about (or enough).

In Jim Whitehurst's THE OPEN ORGANIZATION, he mentioned the importance of having the courage to be different. This is just one of those differences. I personally welcome personal preference differences and the insights they bring to me. Sometimes it is not easy or fun, but it is helpful. If we respect the value of what all the types bring to us, great things can be achieved.

In reply to by Bob McConnell (not verified)

Where do I find the official or semi-official mbti test online?

Pure bunk! There is no actual scientific evidence that MBTI is anything more than a lot of hype.

One problem with MBTI is that it is only an explanation, never an excuse. I have heard people say, "I don't have to worry about people's feelings, because I'm a T Type". Or, "I can't give speaches because I am an I Type". These are bad excusses for doing things you don't prefer most of the time.

If you believe that left-handed people don't prefer using their left hand most of the time, I would agree with you. But that is not the case. If you observe behavior long enough, you can see that people use one preference over another most of the time. It is only "hype" because it is misunderstood by too many.

That is why MBTI has been around for decades and used successfully. It has helped me in the international environment I live and work in.

Thank you for your comments though. I'm very glad you're passionate about it. If you have a better idea on how very different personality can work better together in teams, I'd love to hear them.

In reply to by Dr Oblivion

How is it pure bunk? It's a classification system to define a few trait differences. By doing so, one is then better able to understand those differences.

You could also, for example, do this with a herd of horses and group them by leg length and use that info to hitch them up in better matched teams and give them work that best suits their leg length and build. Does this then mean that a horse in the short-legged category will be completely unable to do something a horse in the long-legged category does? Not at all. But it might help explain why it's harder for him than for the other horse.

It doesn't need to be 'scientific' to provide practical benefit, as long as you keep in mind the limitations of it.

In reply to by Dr Oblivion

Good points Nelson. MBTI does have its limitations, but that does not mean that it can't be helpful.

In reply to by Nelson Hoover (not verified)

I know that the business types love Myers-Briggs, but it's just worthless pseudo-science. Why do you peddle it here?

I thought it would be helpful in team activities, whether business or other projects. It has helped me. There may be other ways to make teams more productive, but that is the only one I have used.

In reply to by Miroslaw Baran (not verified)

Your technique is sound: Encourage individuals to be introspective along structured lines, to see the similarities in others in their functional group, and then understand the differences to other groups and communications styles that will work. It even allows that next step of understanding how to strengthen the group itself through diverse perspectives.

The problem is (as pointed out by Dr. Oblivion) only that the particular framework you're using is actually proved to have no basis in pyschology. So your technique is solid, but easy to critique by folks that don't want to participate for one of the tools you're using. I don't have a better suggestion for a framework, but it would be interesting to find one.

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