Using the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator to Improve Teamwork

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If you work in human resources, you are probably faced with a never ending series of problems that are incredibly common yet very hard to solve — for instance, the star sales rep whose lack of organization drives her methodical assistant to find another job, or the vice president who trusts his gut without verifying any data and sends the CFO into a panic attack.

The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) is a way to deal with these problems that may be new to you. Here is some background on what this method is all about, and how you can use it within your firm to build teamwork effectiveness.

What is the MBTI?

The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) is one of the most popular psychological instruments used to describe and measure personality characteristics. It is commonly used in business and team building to encourage optimal communication and teamwork among different personalities. Awareness of personality differences, or to “know thyself” as well as know others, is crucial for effective communication within an organization. The origins and explanations for each MBTI criteria are lengthy, but a brief overview is helpful. The four main extremes within the MBTI are:

  • Introvert OR Extrovert
  • Sensing OR Intuition
  • Thinking OR Feeling
  • Judging OR Perceiving

A total of 16 personality types are possible with this instrument. The MBTI is not meant to label the entirety of one’s personality and be done with it, but to identify the unique ways in which an individual interprets information, communicates, and views the world and others. The purpose of the MBTI is not to pigeonhole people, but simply to identify which extreme we tend to lean toward. Administering the MBTI to your employees will give you the opportunity to better understand your employees’ strengths, as well as identify their communication and working styles.

How It Will Benefit Your Employees

1. Acknowledge and work with differences. Sometimes it is difficult to remember that not everyone processes information and interprets problems the same way “I” do. Acknowledging differences is the first step to effective understanding and appreciating the contributions of each other. A group of strong-leaning Perceiving types (spontaneous, last-minute doers) may be intolerable to a Judging type, who prefers to make a plan and go about business in a very orderly, predictable way. Gaining insight on where the other person is coming from helps each member of the group feel heard and respected – rather than continually frustrated and annoyed.

2. Actively understand those differences within a team. Utilizing the MBTI encourages teamwork by helping coworkers understand each other. Instead of butting heads over personality differences, these differences are acknowledged and respected, making it easier to move forward. Introverted, sensing types may find it difficult to work with extroverted, intuitive types and vice versa. Introverted, sensing individuals tend to distrust intuition when problem-solving, base their solutions on data and facts, and use concrete methods to find answers. Extraverted, intuitive types may be more inclined to rely on abstract theories and consider future possibilities rather than just the task at hand. One can see how this mixture of individuals could foster frustration. Identifying these extremes of personality can help employees better understand each other, and tailor their decision-making process to accommodate both ways of problem-solving.

3. Improve and embrace different forms of communication. This requires some people to act outside their comfort zone. As stated in #1, it can be easy to forget that not everyone communicates or processes information the same way “I” do. Introverts tend to value inward, reflective thought and they generally require lots of time in their head before pitching their ideas out loud. In contrast, extroverts tend to be comfortable with the outward sharing of ideas when they first pop into their head and expand on ideas by verbally communicating with others. Introverts expend energy by communicating and interacting; extraverts gain energy by doing the same. Some experts posit that the introversion/extraversion dichotomy is one of the strongest influences on our personalities, so recognizing these core differences in employees is crucial. Putting the effort into respecting each other’s interpersonal style, and learning new ways to communicate enables you to adapt your style to communicate clearly and persuasively no matter who is listening.

4. Encourage the strengths of each distinct personality type. The reality is, you may have employees who are not team players by nature. This does not mean they cannot effectively work and contribute on a team; it just means they require a different approach to decision making and devising solutions. Certain personality types are less common than others; those with a more unique personality may feel outcast or that they cannot contribute effectively, but that is not true! The MBTI is particularly useful in identifying personality traits for people that may not have fully understood the “why” of their behavior. When individuals understand the “why” of their approach, they can more easily cultivate their strengths. Foster the strengths within all types of personality and that will lead to greater diversity of ideas, which in turn will create an outcome with more creative solutions.

Next Steps

Like most psychological instruments, the MBTI is not infallible, but is an excellent asset in promoting teamwork and communication. There are dozens of ways to incorporate the MBTI into team- and leadership-building. The first helpful step a manager can take is to become certified to administer the MBTI. This is necessary in order to accurately interpret and apply the results. There are also a handful of MBTI-based instruments specifically geared towards leadership building and teamwork, which can be found here.

Over to you.

The MBTI is a proven, time-tested tool that promotes better understanding, communication, and creativity for both employees and managers. Have you used Myers-Briggs in your organization? We’d love to hear about your experiences in comments.

(Image credit: © style-photography.de – Fotolia.com)

About Kim Shorr

Kim Shorr received her master's in forensic psychology from the Chicago School of Professional Psychology, and has experience in counseling, assessment and case management. In addition to writing and research, her interests include natural living and politics.

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One Comment to “Using the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator to Improve Teamwork”

  1. Colin Graves says:

    Great article – I use the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator with teams in the UK and the reason I get so many requests for it is that it works! Like you say it is not infallible and it is only an ‘indicator’ but most organisations find it helps build self-awareness and awareness of others and this improves teamwork,