Understanding How You Work Individually and as Part of a Team

I have never been ‘personality profiled’ as part of the employment screening process, however have definitely participated in one form of testing or another for the purposes of team building. I’m going to discuss two types of preference testing which we undertook as part of team building activities in the introductory week of my MBA. I emphasise that these tests are not personality tests, but rather preference tests, in that they identify your preference in the way you interact with others, make decisions, etc. I do find that some of my results have changed over the years and that this is largely to do with the type of role I am and the types of responsibilities I am required to carry out at the time of testing.

Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI)

The MBTI describes people’s preferences for interacting with others, gathering information, making decisions and organizing their  lives. It is premised on the basis of four pairs of contrasts, in which you have a preference for one or the other in each pair. You either have a strong preference for:

  1. extraversion or introversion
  2. being intuitive or sensing
  3. thinking or feeling
  4. judging or perceiving

You complete a questionnaire designed to reveal your preference towards each of these contrasts.  Your preferences then make up your MBTI type. The fun part is reading through the description of your MBTI type and determining how much you agree or disagree with. I tend to fluctuate between an INTJ and an ISTJ and I perceive that this is quite an accurate depiction of my working style. I find that the problem areas associated with a particular type is the most informative and helpful part, if acknowledged with an open mind and an intent to improve. For example, some problem areas associated with INTJ types which I can definitely see in myself are:

  • May be unaware (and sometimes uncaring) of how they come across to others
  • May quickly dismiss input from others without really considering it
  • May look at external ideas and people with the primary purpose of finding fault
  • May have unrealistic and/or unreasonable expectations of others
  • May be intolerant of weaknesses in others

If I am aware of these potential negative behaviours and make my team aware them, they are more likely to be spotted and mitigated before they become an issue.  There is also a wealth of reading online about how to work with a certain MBTI type. Whilst the test may not have much psychological merit and therefore should probably be taken with a grain of salt, I do find it a useful self assessment tool. You can complete a free test by clicking on this link.

I would be interested to hear about whether you agreed with your result, do share!

type-preferences2

Belbin Team Roles

The Belbin Team Inventory was devised by Dr Meredith Belbin to measure an individual’s level of preference for nine team roles, identified whilst studying numerous teams at Henley Management College. I find the Belbin roles more practical and easy to quickly apply in a team environment than the MBTI types.  Again, the questionnaire seemed to bring up results that were very closely aligned to the contribution that I am required to make at work. It is possible to return strong results in more than one team category. I returned very high preferences for shaping, implementing and finishing. This seems to align to the non nonsense, practical preferences that were revealed in my MBTI testing.

In my opinion, the value in the Belbin testing is derived from learning about the other roles and how they contribute to a team’s success. That way, you can understand and appreciate how your team members offer a contribution that is unique from your own. For example, I never understood the true value of a person in a ‘supporter’ role who can be empathetic to individuals and maintain team harmony, an area in which I don’t naturally attend to. In addition, having an open team discussion about each person’s weaknesses (which they agree with) provides an excellent opportunity for a team to brainstorm about how other members will keep that person on track. A representative of the people now behind the Belbin tool have left a comment below, check it out if you are interested in taking the test.

screen-shot-2012-10-04-at-10-33-08

Positive team performance regardless of personality or preferences 

I think it’s important to acknowledge that not all groups of people that work together do so as a team, although that is the word regularly used to describe a group of colleagues. People can work in the same business unit and not really be required to collaborate with one another directly as they each have their specialised area or are predominantly client facing. In this situation, although it is better if everybody gets along, it’s not as critical because an individual’s work performance is not heavily contingent on the other members of the group.

In contrast, a team is a small number of people with complementary skills who are committed to a common purpose, a common set of performance goals, and an approach for which they hold themselves mutually accountable[1]. Regardless of the individual personalities or preferences that made up a team, there are certain initiatives that you can implement to promote positive team performance. I have summarised these concepts from two Harvard Business Review articles, which I have referenced at the bottom of this blog post.

Putting together an effective team [1]:

  • Establish urgency by setting performance goals within a certain time frame.
  • Select members for skill and skill potential, not personality.
  • Develop rules of conduct at the outset to help the team achieve their purpose and performance goals.
  • Encourage the team to spend lots of time together, scheduled and unscheduled as creative insights and personal bonding require impromptu and casual interactions just as much as performing the work.
  • Exploit the power of positive feedback, recognition and reward.

Interestingly, a large part of team performance comes from how team members interact and engage with one another.  The study I referenced actually found that 35% of variation in team performance could be accounted for simply by the number of face to face exchanges among team members. The defining characteristics of successful team interaction are where [2]: 

  • Everyone talks and listens in roughly equal measure.
  • Members face one another and their conversations and gestures are energetic.
  • Members connect directly with one another.
  • Members carry on back channel or side conversations within the team.
  • Members periodically break, go exploring outside of the team and bring information back.

The take away message for me was that along with establishing ground rules and goal setting, team interaction and engagement are key to a team’s success. Tools such as the MBTI and Belbin team roles can increase team member’s understanding of one another and aid in team congruence and bonding. As a manager, you have the ability to establish ground rules, create opportunities for team bonding, encourage team members’ awareness of one another’s contributions and potential problem areas, ultimately improving the likelihood of positive team outputs. As a team member, being aware of your strengths and weaknesses, as well as the preferences of your team members can improve your ability to bond with the team and move collaboration forward positively.

That Career Girl

[1]The discipline of teams. Harvard Business Review, Vol. 71(March-April) (1993), pp. 111-146 by J. R. Katzenbach, D. K. Smith
[2]The new science of building great teams Harvard Business Review, Vol. 90, No. 4. (April 2012), pp. 60-69 by A. Pentland

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8 comments

  1. Great post! As part of my company’s talent management program, I am preparing a workshop together with some colleagues about MBTI, so this is a very timely post indeed! I am an INFP, I’ve done the test a number of years ago, but the description of my type still rings true today. I hadn’t heard about Belbin before, I’ll read up on it as it sounds interesting!

  2. I got ISFJ :) I’m not sure if it’s accurate though as I found some of the questions hard to answer as there were so many factors that could have influenced the decision. For example choosing between the fictional story and the news story – it would really depend on the subject matter and how interesting it was, heheh :D
    I suppose it does describe me and I do agree with it – but I might have just as easily agreed with another one if that makes sense. Good food for thought though :D

  3. Hi – Just a quick point – you may be able to find free Belbin tests on line, but they are not endorsed by us at Belbin (belbin.com), and the use of these is an infringement of our copyright. Please use the sanctioned methods of all tests that you use. Ours our properly researched, validated, and updated. This ensures that the advice you are given is useful and fully normed. Don’t be sucked in by fancy graphics and the word free…

  4. I was an ENTJ – I say “was” because I fell prey to the point you ,mention about it being preferences.rather than what we actually do. Perhaps if I’m totally honest, I probably put what I “thought” I should as a newly recruited graduate rather than what was true for me.

    Having since worked with lots of different profiling tools, I think many of them are excellent to help us understand ourselves, as you say. The way it is debriefed is hugely important too. I have worked with many people who’ve had no one work through the reports with them or had someone who is not skilled at it (trained but not skilled) which can mean that really useful points are lost.

    My personal favourite is one where you can understand yourself but also really get to grips with how others are – what their values and motivations are. MBTI can be super accurate but I struggle to remember all 16 profiles!

  5. There is a test that is no copyright infringement whatsoever and does a very good job of getting you your most fitting team roles (and least fitting too actually). Do note that the team roles test of mr. M. Belbin has had its share of criticism, the roles are foremost collections of competencies and personality characteristics and do not form a scientific personality theory on its own, but a highly useful description it is. Here is a valid and very well like team roles test http://www.123test.com/team-roles-test/ based on functional competency theory and the Big Five personality theory.

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