A few months ago I was invited to assist the leadership group of a specialty healthcare department with their team cohesion and performance. The above observation came out during my initial needs assessment. For a variety of reasons, we elected to utilize the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator to begin exploring the unique personalities and preferences of the group, to understand some of the naturally occurring behaviors of the team, and identify actionable ways to address their challenges.
The MBTI identifies personality preferences across four dichotomies. They are as follows:
- The E/I dichotomy: The source and focus of our attention and energy. Each of us has a preference for either Extroversion or Introversion.
- The S/N dichotomy: How we prefer to take in information and the kind of information we seek out and trust. Each of us has a preference for either Sensing or Intuition.
- The T/F dichotomy: How we prefer to make decisions. Each of us has a preference for either Thinking or Feeling.
- The J/P dichotomy: How we prefer to orient our day to day lives. Each of us has a preference for either Judging or Perceiving.
My initial work with the group included a standard Introduction to Type workshop that included a team type table- a visual representation of all the individual preferences of the group. What came out (which I expected upon hearing the feedback above) was that the group had an overwhelming preference for Extroversion (E) and Intuition (N). In fact 14 of the 16 participants had clear and validated preferences for E and N.
On the first dichotomy, people with a preference for E prefer to focus their energy outwardly on people and things. That’s also the source of their energy and how they prefer to process information. Those with a preference for Introversion (I) on the other hand prefer to focus their energy inward on their thoughts, ideas, and reflections.
On the second dichotomy, people with a preference for N prefer to take in information by going beyond what is real or concrete and focusing on meaning, associations, connections, and instinct. This is also the kind of information they seek out and trust. Those with a preference for Sensing (S) on the other hand prefer to take in information in a literal sense using their five senses.
We all do both, but we have a preference for one over the other. Our preference is what comes naturally, without thought or effort. It’s where we go most frequently and is often where we start.
You can start to see why staff meetings could get out of hand. An EN group will feel compelled to discuss, explore, and give voice to ideas. They will brainstorm and spin off of one another endlessly. Most in the group will want to be heard, need to be heard even. As the discussion builds and evolves the majority of the group will find themselves energized by the ideas, the potential, and the connections being made.
Once this group recognized what was happening, and more importantly why it was happening, they quickly agreed that they would need to be “reigned in” if they were ever going to accomplish what they needed to during their limited meeting time. The WHY piece is critical here. It’s not enough to simply make the observation that an overload of discussion and idea-generation were derailing their performance. Each participant had to see and own the ways in which they were part of that problem. The MBTI workshop allowed that to occur.
(As an aside for all you MBTI buffs out there- this group also had a clear majority preference for J, so there was constant tension between the collective desire to “stick to the agenda” and finish and the allure of discussion and exploration. It was quite fun to watch many in the group admit, a bit sheepishly, that they would often rail about an inability to get through the agenda and moments later voice another idea, another connection, another point to be made.)
As you can imagine the two Sensors (S) in the group were miserable. They wanted concrete problems to solve and would get dragged into endless future-focused discussions about possibilities. They would often point out that the constant discussion (what they called “going off on tangents”) prevented them from actually “getting anything done.” As SJs they placed a great deal of value on working through real-time problems chronologically and making decisions on how to act and solve those problems within the time allotted.
In the end the group recognized that they needed time to discuss, explore, and brainstorm. They would be stressed and miserable without it. But they also agreed that time limits needed to be set and enforced and that sometimes new topics needed to be tabled for future meetings to ensure that all items on the agenda were given adequate time and attention. Responsibility for tracking and gently enforcing these guidelines went to the two SJs in the room who, it won’t surprise you to learn, gleefully volunteered for this role.
I love using the MBTI because it can produce powerful insights that help solve real challenges facing leaders and teams. If your team isn’t as productive or cohesive as it could be, consider using the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator to create awareness and unlock a treasure-trove of strategies to improve performance.
And yes, I’m an Intuitive (N). All the imagery, metaphor, and analogy in my writing should make that fairly obvious 🙂
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