Personality inventories, or, I’m not the type

I don’t place much value on the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, at least in the world of work.  A lot of people like the MBTI and its corporate-astrology cousins, but I treasure Scott Simmerman, who says his profile is GFNJ (Guy From New Jersey).

This reflects only a part of your personality.I’ve been asked to help revise a new-specialist training program.  The specialty hardly matters; what I want to talk about is the personality test the client’s using for an activity early in the course.

And the first thing I want to say about the fictionally-named Banquo Group is: they like this test.

It’s not that big a deal; it doesn’t take  much time in the program.  And the new specialists will have to communicate with lots of people–other employees at Banquo, and clients on the project teams the specialists eventually join.

Banquo sees value in the instrument, which sorts people into the mandatory four groups (call them the Pilot, the Pioneer, the Diplomat, and the Doer).  The idea, of course, is that if you’re a Pilot, you have preferred ways of acting and speaking.  Your strongest tendencies can be drawbacks when you deal with a Pioneer or a Diplomat.

And so on for all four types.  The big idea is that you’re conscious of your own preferred style and those of the other person.

Well, that’s just fine, but–so what?  How does that work on on the job?  Probably not by viewing bullet-point descriptions of the types.  That’s like seeing peshawari chole on the menu when you haven’t had Indian food.  The fact that it’s got chickpeas and tomatoes doesn’t help all that much.

Pioneer?  You couldn't find the goal line if you fell on it.Why not adapt this exercise to the actual business of the Banquo group?  Go ahead and give the test.  Then:

  • Have pairs of people work through a Banquo/client problem.
  • Give each person in the pair a private note to go with, or against, their own personality type.
  • See what happens.

For one thing, this gets people away from “Paul Revere was a Doer, and Eleanor Roosevelt was a Pilot.”  (If you think those two people exemplify the types pretty well, remember that I made the types up five paragraphs back.)

Second, it builds on the fact that people on earth don’t have their personality type stencilled on their foreheads.  You have to talk with them to get to know them.

More important, it gets the participants talking to one another about things that matter to the Banquo Group.

For my money (and, I think, for the client’s), the best that can be said for personality tests is that they encourage mindfulness.  So why not be mindfulness about how Banquo employees relate to each other and to clients on the job?

Personality test photo by Thomas Hawk, used under a CC license.
Disagreement photo by Frenkieb, used under a CC license.