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I used a personality assessment to help my team — and it was great!

One of the greatest things about working with innovation is realizing how much of it is discovering new patterns and behaviors. Every individual is unique, but there are choices and actions that we reinforce as we interact with the world.

I had a team of misfits and a patchwork of different profiles that were matched with no teambuilding approach so far, with no Scrum Master to help. I had just joined the company, and had been dropped in that product, so I needed to quickly understand my team so I could make it work fast. But talking to them gave me a lot of information about their discomforts with each other, but revealed little about themselves.

There are two different tools for personality assessment that I am reasonably familiar with: DISC and MBTI. DISC is great to show your approach, your strategy to different situations and people, while MBTI is good for revealing your essence, what you value and the preferences and choices you make.

Besides, if it’s good enough for McKinsey, I guess it’s worth experimenting with. So I decided to give MBTI a try.

A personality assessment is like an x-ray of your behavior patterns and preferences. I’ve seen comparisons with astrology, due to the predictability aspect, but these comparisons couldn’t be further than the truth: a personality assessment is a tool to identify preferences that are already there, and will probably manifest in the person’s behavior, while astrology uses the stars to foretell how the person’s behavior will become, right from their birth.

I sent a link to all team members and asked them to spend 10 min of their time with the test and then tell me the result. With that, I could tell I had a wonderful leader (ENTJ) that kept to himself, a genius misanthrope that only talked to machines and had great difficulties in keeping track of time (INTP), a talented and empathetic go-getter (ISFJ), a tech geek that only wanted to feel free and have fun (ISTP) and so on.

The awesome thing about MBTI is that it shows our preferences and thus explains why we behave in a way that, to some people, seems senseless.

The tech geek, for instance, was seen by the team as reckless and technically impaired. Knowing what made him tick, I started talking to him, listening to his discomforts and proposing courses of action that would not clash with his values, but also made them shine. Together, we identified the fact the technology we used was not his favorite was not the real problem. The problem was he wasn’t having fun and felt diminished by the team, so we started working on that, and soon he was delivering everything super fast, and even complaining about other people’s code quality.

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In retrospectives, the team started using the personality assessment as a tool to explain differences among members, like “I have a J personality, so I need to know we have a plan for this. I know you are a P and like improvising, but can you tell me what you plan on doing beforehand?”

Not only did MBTI help me in getting to know my team and employ a team building approach — it also helped them understand and empathize better with themselves.

I really wanted to feel comfortable around a lot of people, but I am an introvert. I can make an effort, but I need time to recharge.

And the extroverted would respond

ok, I’ll deal with some of the negotiations to help you, and you’ll review my code later on…?

And my favorite:

“I know you are a thinker (as opposed to a feeler), but it sounds rude to me when you say things like that…”

replied with

I’m very sorry, I didn’t mean to be rude. I just wanted to be practical, but I see it sounded rude, so I apologize.

So, while a personality assessment will not predict your behavior, it may reveal what is most important to you and explain how your preferences affect your actions in everyday life. Used as a tool for self knowledge as well as empathy for others, it has proven to be invaluable in building a team out of a messy group of people.

Article also available in portuguese. Check out our portuguese page here.