Leading A Team Of Diverse Personalities – Part 1: Introduction

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In order to develop good team working, it can be helpful to consider the different personalities that make up the team, how they contribute and how they may need to be supported differently. You may also want to think about how your personality and preferred ways of working will impact on the team. This kind of diversity brings many advantages, such as different perspectives on a problem, and people will tend to do their best work when allowed to work in the way that they find most comfortable.

Carl Jung developed a theory of personality types which was converted into a practical tool by Katherine Myers and Isabel Briggs called the Myers Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI, now licensed by OPP in the UK). This is one of many ‘lenses’ which can be used to look at personality differences but it is one that we use a lot with academic leaders and creates quite a few ‘light-bulb’ moments when we do. One area in which it has a real impact is in team working. It looks at four “preference pairs” and works on the basis that everyone can work in all eight of these but not at the same time and that every person will have one out of each pair which is their natural or favourite preference.

It is important to remember that MBTI is designed to develop awareness and open up possibilities, rather than to limit people. It must never be used as an excuse not to do something!

Where do you get your energy from?

Some people get their energy from the external world of people and places while others gain energy from their internal world of thought and reflection. One example of how this plays out is that the former group tend to like to work through a problem out loud – talking it through with others first before, perhaps, going away to think about it alone. The latter group instead prefer to think about a problem by themselves first before voicing some of their ideas in front of others. The former are described as having an “extraversion” preference, the latter an “introversion” preference.

What kind of information do you trust?

Some people are most attuned to specific factual information and the present reality of a situation while others are attuned to patterns, connections and future possibilities. If asked to tackle a task, the first group would probably start by gathering more detailed factual information, what is known and what has already been tried (“..let’s not re-invent the wheel”)….while the second group would be more likely to start generating several ideas about how to go about the task and be enthused by the potential for innovation. The former preference is named “sensing” and the latter “intuition”.

How do you make decisions?

Some people, when asked to make a decision, first step outside of the situation analysing it logically and using their principles in order to achieve the required result. Others will first step into the situation and examine it from the perspectives of those involved and using their own values in order to achieve the end result. Both these approaches are rational decision-making processes and most people will use both at different times. Your Myers Briggs preference will be the one that you do first. These preferences are named “thinking” and “feeling”. Those with a thinking preference like to be recognised for a job well done at the end, preferably by someone who knows whether it is actually a good job or not! Those with a feeling preference value the process of getting a job done and will more readily recognise (and like to be recognised for) individual effort and contribution to a task as well as for achieving the end result itself.

Your preferred lifestyle

Do you like your life to be planned and organised, feeling happy once decisions are made and getting satisfaction from finishing ahead of deadlines? Or do you like your life to be more flexible and spontaneous, not making decisions until you really have to, always staying open to new information and probably finishing tasks in a last minute rush, being stimulated and most productive at this time? The former is a “judging” preference and the latter is a “perceiving” preference. It is easy to guess how a clash of these two preferences may cause conflict in teams. Both preferences are beneficial though with the judging approach bringing more structure to a team and the perceiving approach bringing more flexibility.

In the articles which follow on from this introduction we will look at how these preferences play out in different aspects of team working and how you can allow all preferences to thrive, getting the most benefit from each and avoiding conflict caused by preference clashes within a team.

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