Despite widespread scepticism, more and more organisations are using personality tests like the Myers–Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) to create and manage their teams. Should you?
If you’ve ever sat with a team – say, a management meeting, or a board or body corporate gathering – you’ll know what chaos can look like. Dr Heather Tuffin, a medical doctor turned improvement scientist, remembers the feeling well. ‘I felt as if I was going mad when I was in management meetings,’ she says. ‘I felt like we were having three or four different conversations, and people were talking past each other.’ Then she discovered – and applied – a personality test technique, and everything changed.
‘It hugely benefited me in realising that people use different languages, and different things are important to different personality types,’ she says. ‘Knowing that taught me how to bring it all together in a meeting.’ Tuffin now does consulting work, helping organisations to create and manage better teams. Her work is partly based on Patrick Lencioni’s landmark work The Five Dysfunctions of a Team, and also relies on on the MBTI.
You may have heard of Myers–Briggs. Developed during World War II by mother-daughter duo Katharine Cook Briggs and Isabel Briggs Myers, and based on the psychiatric work of Carl Jung, the MBTI is a self-reporting questionnaire that shows how different personality types perceive the world.
It looks at four psychological functions or preferences: whether you prefer to focus on the outer world or on your own inner world; how you process information; whether you look at logic and consistency or people and special circumstances; and whether you like to get things decided or prefer to stay open to options.
Based on that, you fall into one of 16 distinct Myers–Briggs personality types, coded according to Extraversion (E) or Introversion (I), Sensing (S) or Intuition (N), Thinking (T) or Feeling (F), and Judging (J) or Perceiving (P) – hence, the gentle ISFJ, the playful ESFP, the get-things-done ESTJ, and so on.
Sure, it may sound like horoscope hokum. And yeah, you could take the test again tomorrow morning and get a different four-lettered result. But for Tuffin, the point is less about the tool itself, and more about self-reflection.
‘For many people, it’s the first foray into going, “Oh, okay! These things that I thought everyone thought were important, aren’t. It’s just what my type feels is important. So this is me, and this is how I tick … and other people don’t necessarily think the same way that I do, and they’re okay.”’
There are, of course, dozens of personality type tests out there, each with its own merits and critics. Tuffin prefers Myers–Briggs because, she says, ‘it’s accessible, and there’s loads of stuff around it that’s available for free. The model we use says: “You can do this too!” You don’t have to be a black belt in Myers–Briggs in order to apply it.’
That’s also why so many corporates (80% of Fortune 500 companies, according to one count) are using the tool as part of their recruiting process, and to develop their management teams. After all, if you’re sitting around a boardroom table with a dozen other people, it helps to know where they’re coming from – and where your own decisions are coming from! ‘And how to use the team’s different leadership strengths,’ adds Tuffin. ‘Each personality type has a different kind of leadership strength, and different work focus. There are certain tasks that one type might prefer compared to another.’
The greatest value, she says, is found in the differences between the various personality types. ‘If there’s someone that holds the S position and another who holds the N position, for example, the magic happens in the tension between those. If all of you collapse completely into S, you don’t have the big picture tension; and if you collapse into N you don’t have the execution tension.’
So there’s no ‘best’ type. An intellectual INTP isn’t ‘better’ than, say, a practical ESFJ. The secret sauce lies in finding the balance or tension between the two.
As Tuffin says: ‘I’m still trying to figure out the magic of it. But every time we use it, there’s magic that happens.’