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Dealing with different personalities

Author: Elisa Warner

Allowing team members to play to their strengths sets the foundation for a successful project.

Problem

Ineffectively managing a team of individuals with different personalities and working styles can result in unnecessary challenges and lead to the failure of a project.

Solution

Successfully manage a project by structuring project meetings and tasks in a manner that supports the strengths of all team members.

Discussion

Based on the writings of theorist Carl Jung, the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator assessment groups individuals into one of 16 personality types along four scales. The system is used frequently by organizations to understand the working styles of employees, balance teams, and circumvent conflict.

In the Myers-Briggs assessment, personality characteristics are categorized along four continuums: Introvert/Extrovert; Sensing/Intuition; Thinking/Feeling; and Judging/Perceiving.

Introvert/Extrovert

The category of introversion/extroversion measures how an individual draws their energy—internally (from their own thoughts and ideas) or externally (from their interactions with others). Introverts tend to be introspective, analytical, and cautious team members. Extroverts are typically vocal, active, and comfortable expressing their ideas. Whereas introverted team members need extroverts to initiate spontaneous verbal discussions, extroverts value an introvert’s capability for problem solving based on careful reflection and consideration of all ideas.

Sensing/Intuition

The sensing/intuition continuum measures how a person processes information – whether through their physical senses or instinctual processes. A sensing person tends to be visual and fact-oriented, while an intuitive person might approach life in a more open and creative manner. In a team environment, intuitive members need sensing personalities to remind them of facts and limitations. Conversely, sensing individuals need intuitive members to remind them to think outside of the box.

Thinking/Feeling

The thinking/feeling category refers to the manner by which a person makes decisions. Whereas a thinker reaches conclusions based on external standards and rules, feelers are more concerned with protecting feelings and values. As team members, thinkers are effective in articulating logical reasons behind decisions, while feelers can bring people together.

Judging/Perceiving

This final category assesses how people approach their life. Judging personalities tend to be highly organized and structured about their daily activities, while perceiving personalities are more spontaneous and flexible. A team needs the right mix of judging and perceiving personalities to ensure adaptability as well as adherence to project boundaries and deadlines.

While all personality continuums hold relevance for team dynamics, managing introverts and extroverts can be a particular challenge.

Managing Introverts and Extroverts Within a Team Environment

Managing a team consisting of introverts and extroverts demands forethought and creativity. While introverts find group discussions draining and stressful, extroverts regard such meetings energizing and productive. Through awareness and planning, project managers can create conditions that support the working styles of both sides of the continuum.

Organize Team Meetings around Documentation

Meetings are an integral component of project development and planning. For extroverts, meetings provide a venue for thought-provoking discussion and problem-solving. Introverts, on the other hand, need sufficient time to research, plan and prepare for substantive discussions.

As a manager, meet the needs of both groups by providing written information in advance of team meetings, such as an agenda, report, or discussion questions. This practice allows introverts time to organize their thoughts and feel more comfortable bringing their ideas to the table. Extroverts, energized by direct interaction, will welcome their contributions.

Conduct Team Exercises in Pairs

Organize a brainstorming exercise where the group is broken up into pairs (an introvert with an extrovert, if possible). A smaller scale of interaction will appease an extrovert’s need for face-to-face communication, while reducing the anxiety an introvert may feel speaking in front of a group.

Facilitate an Inclusive Discussion: Look and Listen

Sometimes an introvert would like to state a viewpoint, but lacks the assertiveness to jump into an active discussion. Extroverts can become so involved in a conversation that they miss the non-verbal cues of their introverted counterparts. As the project leader, observe both verbal and non-verbal cues when facilitating project discussions.

Assign a Private Project Journaling Exercise

Journaling allows team participants to explore their project ideas and reactions on paper, providing a safety zone for free thought, creativity and introspection. Encourage participants to use this tool to brainstorm ideas and organize their thoughts before a meeting.

Utilize Technological Resources

Help bridge the communication gap by utilizing technology to provide a variety of interaction opportunities. While the traditional sit-down meeting will appeal to extroverts, many introverts come alive with the faceless communication opportunities provided by email, Internet discussion boards, and conference calls. By incorporating technology as a meeting tool, the sit-down meeting is merely an extension of a running virtual dialogue.

As any group is enriched by diversity, a variety of personalities can make for a stronger team. By nurturing the strengths of all participants, managers can increase performance, creativity, and harmony within the team.


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Elisa Warner develops research and training programs for non-profit and educational organizations. She is the former editor-in-chief of The Educational Facility Planner.

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