Knowing me, knowing you…

All of the best teams that rise to the top of their performance arena usually have an extra dimension to their armoury – they really make the most of the different personalities present within the team.

In contrast, teams that don’t get the most out of themselves and fail to live up to the collective potential usually find that their difference in personalities are a cause for conflict, divergence and wasted time settling unnecessary clashes as a result of contrasting views of the world.

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Many of the negative experiences involved in working in a team result from not taking the time to firstly understand the differences between personalities, and secondly, not realising that different personalities when used in a complementary approach provide a more powerful performance resource.

Therefore, many individuals on teams and many teams waste an enormous amount of available talent by never taking stock of their most valuable commodity – their personality pool.

For a relatively small investment of time, members on teams who don’t necessarily naturally gel can begin to appreciate the reason for their “friction” and be challenged to identify ways in which the now complementary personality characteristics can be exploited for more consistent, more effective and more sustainable performance.

There are many different personality models available to help a team raise their collective awareness of the different characteristics within a team. Whichever one that is employed by a team to development self-awareness and awareness of others, there are a few key rules to keep in mind when embarking on a journey to improve collective working practices.

Firstly, make sure people really use personality information with a specific aim of being able to answer two key questions:

  1. How well do I understand how to get the most out of myself?
  2. How well do I understand how to get the most out of other people?

In addition to these two fundamental questions, there is a critical follow up question:

Given what I know about my natural personality, how do I need to stretch myself so that I don’t limit myself to becoming a caricature of myself?

The spirit behind this question is one that is focused on encouraging every person on the team to identify ways of looking to use personality information to identify ways of changing their behaviour for given situations when they recognise that they’re in a context that does not naturally suit their personality.

With everyone on a team endeavouring to increase their range of behaviours and responses, the personality pool is increased beyond the natural level.

Identifying contrasting personality preferences within a team also opens up one further critical question:

Who on the team is a great example of the kind of behaviour we need for this specific challenge?

Once we start recognising that specific personality attributes perform particularly effectively in specific situations (rather than just simply thinking always about technical competence), then it is possible to use these differences of approach to either get people to lead by example as a function of their personality, or role model from these individuals in an attempt to mirror their style.

All of these questions encourage people on the team to see personality differences as positive and beneficial to the team, rather than a source of problems.

Individuals on the team are encouraged to recognise that differences are necessary and positive, rather than annoying and inconvenient. So rather than team members wishing, “why can’t everyone else just see this like me?”, they are more likely to be thinking, “are we using the difference perspectives to make sure we’re totally on top of this challenge?

We’ve found the Myers Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) a really useful personality assessment tool to help increase team understanding and team exploitation of personality resource. Specifically, the MBTI helps team members understand differences that result from alternative ways of making decisions, different ways of managing time, contrasting approaches to managing information, and different ways of interacting with other people.

In all of the cases, the contrasting approaches both have their benefits and both have their challenges. There is no right or wrong way of making decisions or managing time as both the personality preferences provide effective approaches. With some well structured discussions and awareness raising exercises, a team can soon start to appreciate the different approaches present within their membership.

Consider the following questions to see if some personality awareness raising might be worthwhile in your team…

  • Do you get annoyed by the way other people manage deadlines because they have a very different approach to you?
  • When making decisions do you often find that someone else is constantly wanting to talk about parts of the decision making process that just don’t seem important to you when considering the things that are critical to getting the “correct” outcome?
  • Do some people annoy you by the way in which they contribute in meetings? (typically talking too much or talking too little)
  • When sharing ideas or information, do you find other people often picking up on different details to you, or considering different elements of the idea more important than you would?

It’s worth considering the cost benefit of increasing personality awareness on your team.

In our experience, the time invested often opens up new avenues for collective performance enhancement and the resulting impact is improved over time when the team commits to develop its collective “skill” of exploiting the personality pool available.

Chances are difficulties that exist in your team are not as a function of differences in technical knowledge and job competence. If that’s the case, then improvements are going to come from reducing the interference that results from the differences in personal style and character.