Build highly effective teams with personality testing

Personality testing is an easy and effective way to create highly functional teams. Once you know which personality types work best together, you can mix and match your star players so that you get the most out of each of them.

They sit around a table in front of you, the oddest mix of people you’ve ever had to work with. The project you have to deliver is enough to keep all of you working full-time for the next year, at least. Half a million dollars will be spent, and new, unfamiliar software will be leased. A couple of cocky consultants will be coming on board. Looking around the table, you realize that mixing and matching these team members will be no easy task. There’s the game-addicted, Star Trek-watching system programmer, the GUI genius (a card-carrying drama queen), the oh-so-serious OOP expert, the tell-me-your-troubles system designer, the class-clown hardware kid…the list goes on.

This is what you have to work with. Some of them seem like adults, some of them don’t. Three facts are foremost on your mind: This is what you have to work with; they are all very good at their respective jobs; and you have NO idea how to team them up.

Whatever works vs. what works best
Fortunately for you, team dynamics are better understood today than they were, say, 25 years ago. And, even better, the social sciences can offer you reliable tools in assessing the strengths and weaknesses of the crowd you’ve got gathered around the conference table. These tools can suggest the most effective combinations available to you as you create working partnerships within your team. And, with such an important project and tight schedule, it’s important that you get it right. So the more information you have upon which to base your decisions, the better off you’ll be.

You already know from experience that some types of people work very well together and some don’t. And, to a degree, you can trust your instincts when teaming people up. But there may be effective combinations that you’ve never tried that will be a boon to your teams and to your project. To this end, the Keirsey Temperament Sorter can be an invaluable aid in putting together synergistic combinations of team members who will not only accomplish the goals you set before them but will stand a better chance of staying productive (and not killing each other) during the long haul.

The Keirsey Temperament Sorter is based on the well-known personality profiling system called the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator. This system measures four major personality components: sociability (I-Introvert or E-Extrovert); sensitivity (S-Sensing or N-Intuitive); intellect (T-Thinking or F-Feeling); and perceptivity (J-Judging or P-Perceiving). Where an individual falls on these four scales gives a clear indication of that individual’s personality type, signified by a four-letter combination, for a total of 16 personality types. Ninety-nine percent of us fall into one of these 16 categories, all of which are well studied and well understood by those in the social sciences.

An ESTP, for instance, is likely to be a realist. An ISTP will go boldly into new territory. An ISFJ will stick with a job to the bitter end. An NTP is the one to turn loose on a really difficult, seemingly unsolvable problem, and so on. (I myself am an INFJ, which means I am happy when writing, and particularly about this subject.)

The Temperament Sorter is a series of 70 simple questions that most people can answer in 10 minutes or less. There are questions such as, “Are you more inclined to be cool-headed, or warm-hearted?” or “Do you usually settle things, or keep options open?” It takes a few moments to tally answers into a four-letter combination, but once you do, the fun begins. When the tester opens the book and reads back the detailed descriptions, people who took the test will be amazed at the accuracy of their profiles.

But the use of the test is not simply in profiling personalities. If you know your team members well and they know each other well, the test won’t tell you anything you don’t already know. The value of this information is in using the specific personality types of your people to create effective teams.

Playing well together
Here’s an example of a good personality match: One member of your team has a “catalyst” personality (one of the four NF types). These types of individuals are able to inspire others, and while their personal contribution or ability might be modest, they have the gift of bringing out the best in those around them. Such a person is well matched with an "entrepreneurial" personality, an ST type who can also have a creative streak. This combination can be dynamic, with each team member doing what he or she does best and together achieving more than you might anticipate.

When I first used this test in the workplace to gain insight into assignments on a huge development project we were starting, I did so in a relaxed, pizza-eating atmosphere, making it purely voluntary. All seven members of my team participated, some with boredom, some with skepticism. We were all amused at the results, which were read “blind,” so that the group had to guess who was being described from the book. In every case, it was obvious and often humorous. (And I never told them I used the results to support my decisions about assignments for the project.)

“To be honest, we were kind of humoring you,” said Teri, one of my former team members, whom I spoke with recently by phone. “It seemed a little cornball at first, and we weren’t sure where you were going with it. But I remember how funny it was when the results turned out to be so accurate.” When I told her the test had been the basis for my teaming her with Brad, easily the shyest member of the team, she was surprised.

“Really? I remember wondering about that at the time. It took Brad and me a while to gain some momentum (on the design of a graphics component of the project). I wasn’t sure how well we’d work together. But once we got used to each other, I think we stayed on schedule or ahead of schedule till we beta-tested. And I loved that (interface); I was really proud of it.”

They were a terrific team. And the rest of the group, likewise matched up in various combinations, performed wonderfully. Would the same assignments have been made without the Keirsey test? Not likely. I went on to use it on two other occasions and was glad I did.

Be the guinea pig
Go with your gut, but keep your gut well informed. Personality testing, and matching team members by temperament, is just another form of a process you already make use of. Why not try it out on yourself to see if it’s a tool you can use? Take the test and learn your own type. Reading an objective account of your own strengths and weaknesses will be an eye-opener and inspire you to evaluate your team members in a more complete framework.

Equipped with that information, you can’t help but make better decisions as you tackle your next team-building challenge.

By Scott Robinson

Scott Robinson is a 20-year IT veteran with extensive experience in business intelligence and systems integration. An enterprise architect with a background in social psychology, he frequently consults and lectures on analytics, business intelligence...