The other day, I was having a discussion with some friends about personality tendencies and how they affect team dynamics. Many of us are "wired" a certain way, which determines how we engage with the world - some think through things out loud, while others need quiet time to process new information; some of us make intuitive leaps, while others need to see it to believe it... and so on.
One of the most interesting tools I've been exposed to for determining your personality "type" is the Meyers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI). This is a tool that helps you identify your preferences for processing information, interacting with others, and making decisions.
A bit about the model
There are 4 pairs of traits that define the spectrum of personality in this model :
- Extraversion vs. Introversion: Broadly speaking, these deal with how you process information and where you gain energy.
- Extraverts tend to gain energy from action and interaction. They talk through ideas to develop them, and feel energized in social situations involving lots of people and mingling, for example.
- Introverts tend to gain energy during their quieter, thinking times. They tend to be deep thinkers, and often prefer intimate groups over large groups.
- Sensing vs. iNtuition. This pair deals with how you perceive the world - how you gather information and process it.
- Sensors are the "show me" types. They trust facts they can see, feel, touch, taste, and hear and tend to be very grounded in their thinking and are very pragmatic and data-driven. Sensors are skeptical of "gut feel" and hunches.
- Intuitives are more comfortable dealing with abstract data, patterns, and theories. They often have "epiphanies" based on combinations of things they've been exposed to, and trust those flashes of insight.
- Thinking vs. Feeling. These deal with how you make and rationalize your decisions.
- Thinkers are more logical and detached in how they come to a decision. They are comfortable interpreting and using rules, frameworks, and other structured models for processing data.
- Feelers are more apt to consider the human aspects of decisions - they are driven toward consensus, balance, and harmony in the decisions they make and tend to be influenced by compassion.
- Judging vs. Perceiving. The final pair of traits define how you relate and present yourself to the outside world.
- Judgers like to "have things settled" and push toward definitive decisions. They are most comfortable with clear answers and declarations.
- Perceivers like flexibility. While they will make decisions, they prefer the option to change their mind later and tend to keep their options open.
You'll notice that each pair has one capitalized letter. The capitalized letter is used in a kind of shorthand to describe your "whole type." For example, my MBTI type is "INTJ" for Introverted, iNtuitive, Thinking, Judging. There are 16 different combinations of MBTI types, and you're one of them.
You can read one description of the INTJ type on Wikipedia - it's not 100% accurate for me, but it's pretty darned close. Why isn't it 100% accurate? Two reasons:
- The pairs are not absolutes - they're spectrums, and your score on the traits can be at the one of the ends (where you'll have a strong preference for behaving consistently with the definition) or near the middle (where you may exhibit behaviors of both types;
- Everyone has their own individual quirks and experiences that make them unique.
It's also important to note that everyone is capable of using all 16 of the traits - this test merely helps you determine your preference - the traits you'll use most often, and which you'll revert to under stress.
Note: This is a very involved topic and I'm just scratching the surface here - to learn more about the subtleties, check out the resources at the end of this post.
MBTI types and team dynamics
Now, let's get back to the team aspect of this. The reason I find this model very useful is that it can help me better leverage the strengths of my team. For example:
- If I know someone's an Introvert, I know they need time to think about and process data before they're pushed to make a decision. In contrast, if they are an Extravert, I know it's important to have a meeting and have an interactive discussion about the decision at hand before they'll feel comfortable with what's decided.
- Likewise, if I have a team full of Judgers, I may consult with a Feeler to get their perspective before taking actions that impact other people - you see, Judgers tend to decide based on logic, and may overlook some of the more compassionate aspects of their decisions.
I've been in a number of teams where we used MBTI to help our teams become more effective. In some teams, we used an outside facilitator to interpret our team makeup and help us through exercises to better understand how our different strengths complemented each other. In other teams, we took an online assessment and had discussions about how we could better leverage each others' strengths.
In all cases, we discussed ground rules for how we would make decisions so we could better use everyone's strengths. When everyone gets engaged in the process, the results are definitely worth it.
What's your type?
If you want to find out your type, you can take a free online MBTI assessment to find out. The results page will provide a link that will tell you more about the characteristics of your type.
If you're interested in learning more, or using this within your teams, here are some resources that can help:
- Typelogic, for detailed descriptions of each of the 16 MBTI types, and links to other resources, such as more free MBTI tests.
- "Please Understand Me II," which has a detailed discussion of each of the types and some excellent material to help you make the most of your personality preferences.
- "Type Talk At Work," which is an excellent treatment of how the 16 types interact at work and how to use them to improve teams. I loved this book.
- Whakate's excellent article, "Know Thyself - the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator" - go ahead and register while you're over there to get the full article, and check out the other fantastic content on Whakate.