Have You Assessed Your Team's Personality? Maybe You Should

Last Updated Jun 1, 2011 9:18 AM EDT

Is your team made up of Drivers, Extroverts, or even Red-Greens? These are all descriptions you'll find in different personality, strength or work style assessments. They might seem silly or frivolous, but assessing our teams can have a powerful impact on the way we all work together.

If you've been involved in the corporate life for very long you've probably done some kind of personality test, work-style assessment or strength-identifier. They go by a number of names. Some are well known Myers Briggs (or one of its offshoots, the Myers Briggs Type Indicators, or MBTIs) DISC, Strengthfinder and others with lesser notoriety like Insights. Some measure specific skills or behaviors like listening skills, or presentation styles.

So why do they matter, and which ones should we use? The answer to the first is easy. The answer to the second question is pretty much up to what you're trying to accomplish.

These tools matter because they serve as a way to help your team understand themselves and each other quickly. If we work together every day, we get to know each other--our likes, dislikes, how we like to get information (Is that person in Dallas a big picture person or a data driven nit-picker?) and how we handle everyday situations.

In some cases, these tools are used to help hire the right people for the team. After all, do you really want a book keeper who has no attention to detail? More importantly, it offers a glimpse into how people prefer to work. The problem with working in remote teams is we don't have the chance to observe each other and develop those impressions. In fact, with project teams there's often very little time for social niceties. It's more like."Hi nice to meet you . Our careers depend on this bunch of strangers making this work. Ready?"

By taking an assessment of this kind as a unit and sharing the results (as appropriate) you can accomplish a number of things:

  • The team bonds over an activity. These assessments are often easy and fun to do. If they're not, well, misery loves company.
  • You develop a quick snapshot of the people you work with that can prevent or clear up misunderstandings. You know that person you never hear from on the conference calls? They're not really an idiot, they just don't like to shout things out to get heard. Maybe a one-on-one conversation is required.
  • You get a sense of how people prefer to work. We managers should know who needs a little monitoring and encouragement, and who can be wound up and left alone til the job's done.
One thing about these tools to remember, is they are generalities and, while some are statistically and scientifically valid, shouldn't be used to diagnose and pigeonhole people. Just because someone has a strong preference for one type of behavior doesn't mean they can't work in another way when the situation demands it. Even some of us big-picture people are capable of attention to detail when it's required, and they are often misinterpreted. Just because someone's an introvert, doesn't mean they won't be a terrific sales person. You just might not want to sit next to them at the next awards banquet.

As to which tool you should use, that depends on what behaviors are important for your team. For getting to know each other quickly, a simple MBTI is often a good place to start. These tools assess your preferences in how you get your energy, how you like to gather data, how you make decisions, and how you take action. If your project depends on picking the right players and assigning roles that play to people's strengths it helps to know these things.

Yes, some of these tools are often overly simplistic and some of us are a little skeptical about their overall impact or effectiveness. But that doesn't mean that having our teams learn about each other and how best to work together isn't worth a little time and effort.

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photo by flickr user cookieeater2009 CC 2.0