Teams are important, often essential.
Are you a member of one or more teams at work? If you answered “no,” then you are in the minority compared to most workers. In recent research by the careers site Zippia, more than 50 percent of workers in the United States said that their jobs depended on collaborating, and three-quarters rated teamwork and collaboration as being very important. In the same survey, 86 percent of managers and leaders blamed lack of collaboration as the top reason for workplace failures.
Teams are critical for organizational success, and teams, particularly diverse teams, have advantages over individual workers in terms of factors like innovation. There are of course some situations in which less diverse, more homogeneous teams can outperform more diverse teams. For example, when a team is using existing, set processes to carry out simple tasks in a steady-state environment with low levels of uncertainty and ambiguity.
However, diverse teams perform better where innovation, creativity, or new processes are needed, where the situation is changing, uncertain, or ambiguous, or where more complex responses are required. Today, the business environment for most teams in most organizations is much more likely to be like the second of these alternatives.
How to Navigate Diverse TeamsDiverse teams have the edge in today’s business world. When everyone has a different approach, view, and personality type, this can be extremely powerful, fostering innovation and avoiding groupthink. But these differences mean that diverse teams also experience more conflict, which can be disruptive or destructive.
To keep team interactions healthy and constructive, it’s important that team leaders, and ideally team members, understand where the different people in the team are coming from. One useful way to do this is to know the implications of each person’s personality type, as defined by the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator® (MBTI®) framework.
The MBTI FrameworkThe MBTI approach looks at four areas of personality:
- What is an individual energized by, and do they prefer to focus their attention on the outside world of people and things (extraversion) or their inner world of thoughts and feelings (introversion)?
- Do they trust and prefer to use practical information based on the evidence of their senses (sensing), or do they pay more attention to connections, the big picture, and future possibilities (intuition)?
- Do they prefer to make decisions based on objective logic (thinking) or their values and on how people will be affected by the decision (feeling)?
- Do they prefer to live their lives in an ordered, structured, planned way (judging) or an open, spontaneous, emergent way (perceiving)?
Any one individual will therefore have preferences for either extraversion (E) or introversion (I), for sensing (S) or intuition (N), for thinking (T) or feeling (F), and for judging (J) or perceiving (P). The four preferences combine dynamically to give one of 16 different personality types. For example, my type preferences are INTP.
The Effects of Personality Type MismatchesIn a recent research study conducted by my organization, we found that the match between an individual’s personality type preferences and the overall type of the team was important. Those whose type was entirely different from that of the team had, on average, the least positive view of the team’s performance. In theory, those who think differently from others in the group will potentially be valuable members of the team, bringing in different viewpoints and approaches and potentially improving team decisions. Still, this result suggests that they may feel less committed to the team.
The similarity between an individual’s personality type and that of their manager, in terms of extraversion and introversion, also had an effect; teams were seen to perform better when the manager’s type matched that of the individual. Extraverts whose manager was also an extravert rated their team much higher than extraverts whose manager was an introvert, and introverts whose manager was also an introvert rated their team somewhat higher than introverts whose manager was an extravert. This suggests that where team leaders can adapt their style in terms of extraversion–introversion to match that of team members, the team may be seen to perform more effectively.
Using Personality Type in Team Problem-SolvingOne example of how knowing the team’s personality type can help is in team problem-solving. In solving a problem, you must first consume information and then make a decision based on that information. The MBTI dimension of sensing and intuition relates to how we collect and use information, and the dimension of thinking and feeling relates to how we prefer to make decisions.
For a well-rounded, comprehensive decision, you might start by using sensing, establishing what’s already known, the facts, and what can be learned from experience. Then, move on using intuition, looking at where you are heading, how everything connects, and the big picture. After assessing all that information, weigh the pros and cons and look to see what the objectively right answer would be using thinking, and finally think about how that decision will affect the people involved and how this relates to your values using feeling.
Now, we each have our own preferences with S or N, T or F. My type is INTP, introversion, intuition, thinking, and perceiving. So unless I stop and force myself, I will tend to spend most of my time using intuition to think about possibilities and ideas, ignoring sensing issues like what past experience tells us, what’s realistic, and then go on to make a logical decision using thinking, ignoring feeling issues like how a decision will affect other people, who else needs to be involved, how can I get buy-in, and so on.
And what goes for individual problem-solving also goes for team problem-solving. If certain type preferences are more common in a team, and especially if these are shared by the team leader, then sensing or intuition and thinking or feeling can be side-lined, resulting in a less balanced decision and the voices of some team members going unheard.
But the good news is that once teams are aware of this and what their decision-making approach is likely to be, they can compensate. If they have an hour to debate a problem, they can force themselves to spend 15 minutes discussing it in a sensing way, 15 minutes discussing it from an intuitive perspective, 15 minutes discussing the logical answer, and 15 minutes taking people into account, spending equal amounts of time and energy on all four areas. Not only will the decision likely be better considered, but team members whose type is different from others will feel more heard and included than before. The team leader will have a key role to play in facilitating this approach.
The Importance of Self-AwarenessKnowing yourself, how you fit into the team, and how the other people in the team operate—these are key to turning a dysfunctional team into a functioning, productive team. And tools like the MBTI assessment allow you to gain that knowledge. In a research project, we asked people where it was at work that increasing their self-awareness had been most helpful. And they came up with all kinds of answers—coping with stress, dealing with change, and working with clients— but the most frequent answer was working with others.
In teamwork, understanding yourself is the first step in understanding others, and understanding others is essential for high-performing teams and effective leadership.