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How to Use the MBTI to Get Teams Back on Track

By Roxanne Kichar, Senior Consultant, The Piras Group

MBTI for Teams

Teamwork continues to be one of the hottest topics today with many organizations spending millions of dollars to improve team productivity. And yet teams continue to be plagued by conflict that takes a toll on people and productivity.

How can we turn these team weaknesses around to more productive ways of working together? Let’s look at how the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) can be used as part of a highly effective strategy for getting teams back on track.

Pervasive Team Conflict and Dysfunction

Many teams are distracted by underground conflict and personal histories that maintain artificial harmony.

 Approximately 40% of teams do not know how to reconcile differences or resolve interpersonal conflicts. Ultimately, teams that continue with an endless cycle of dysfunction seriously impede their ability to meet performance goals and get things done together. They cause poor relationships and lower trust levels. People begin to dislike each other, choose silence over dialogue, talk in private and build silos, and push their own personal agenda.

Team Failure in the Storming Phase

Despite good intentions, many teams do fail especially while in the “storming phase”, the second phase of normal team development and one where many teams stay stuck. Teams in this phase frequently have unclear goals, confusion about their roles, poor work processes, and other environmental influences.

However, the most common reason teams fail is team relationships or what can be described as the “team chemistry”.  Bad chemistry on a team, the “war zone”, is when members want to avoid the team, dislike each other, withdraw from conflict and disengage from the team members.  This type of team can be described as “the bleeding back team”, a team plagued by underground conflict, private fighting and members protecting their turf.

 Conflict is left unresolved and power plays take over. One team member once described their unhealthy team as “very draining and toxic” and “makes you want to avoid team meetings altogether”.

How to Use the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator to Improve Team Effectiveness

An effective solution to improving team relationships uses the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) blended with an experiential team building component.

The MBTI is a psychometric assessment based on the theory of psychological type. It describes the four ways people prefer to focus their energy, take in information, make decisions, and deal with the outer world.

Using the MBTI tool as a part of a team building session helps a troubled team in three key ways:

  1. Surface and manage differences
  2. Learn to influence other team members and
  3. Create a plan for how best to work together

The MBTI is used as a fast way to open up topics, get people talking about themselves, and what they hope can be different on the team. Through the window of understanding personality type, team members quickly shift from closed to open communications discussing the dynamics of the team in ways that were never done before. Differences are naturally surfaced as the team discusses their like types and those types different from the team.

Frequently team members dramatically increase their openness with each other once they begin to discuss their individual type results. An Extrovert in an MBTI workshop declared: “wow this explains me so accurately – now I understand why I have to express myself as soon as an idea comes to mind!”. A facility team dominated with Sensing types, recognized how they were not able to embrace their strategic 3 year plans due their desire to be more engaged in their day to day issues.

This type awareness process offers a safe atmosphere to break down the barriers established during the “storming phase.” MBTI helps resolve conflict and get all the perspectives out on the table. New team norms are created to design a healthier team atmosphere where mixed perspectives are encouraged and conflicts are solved.

Step One in MTBI Team Building

In the first component of an MBTI team building session, team members learn their unique type and how they may be contributing to the team’s problems.  For example, an ISTJ member who prefers thinking and judging may come to see how their need for closure causes the other members who prefer more time to process, feel pressured to make quick decisions without ample time for analysis.

Another member with a feeling preference may see how their need for harmony in a troubled team may cause them to withdraw and feel bitter. This self-discovery process is very powerful. People expand their awareness of both their strengths and weaknesses when learning about their type and are able to move beyond the “BLM’ (be like me syndrome). This is when we expect others to be like us and are surprised to discover when they are not. Team members learn how they differ from others, how they are the same, and how their style of delivery may be a problem for others.

Step Two in MTBI Team Building

In the second component of an MBTI team building session, team members learn about the overall profile of the team.

All of the team types are displayed on a table showing like types and those types that are different. The team culture is identified followed by a discussion of the probable work styles.

Let’s take a look at an example of how to use the type table for teams. On this team we have David (who’s an ISFJ), Janice (INTP), Mark (ENTP), Bob and Adam (both ESFP) and Susan (ESFJ).  So we’ve filled in the number of each type, the most frequent type (ESFP) and the most frequent preferences (E,S,F, and P) to see how similar or dissimilar this team is.

Looking at this, we might find this team facing many different types, indicating dissimilar communication preferences. Many team members will be speaking different languages and the members may have difficulty reaching consensus and getting along.

On the positive side, they will have better and more original solutions to problems and can select the right person for the right tasks.

This team culture is ESFP with Extroversion, Sensing, Feeling and Perceiving preferences. The team type table provides another window into how the team will make decisions, communicate, and how they will approach project work.

Teams who understand their personality types can capitalize on their strengths and minimize their potential weaknesses.

MBTI Type Table for Teams

As you can see from the example above, an analysis can be successfully used to highlight the strengths of the team while addressing areas for improvement.

In another example, a team we worked with was dominated by a preference for Introversion. Team members recognized they were not reaching out horizontally with other organizations and stakeholders and decided to set a goal to increase their networking.

The visual display of team types is a powerful way to show how the different personalities are alike and how they are different. While diversity is healthy on a team, it can also cause more conflict.

Discussing the types displayed on the table surfaces the team dynamics and allows for transparency in how team members relate to each other and can improve.  For example, an engineering team understood more clearly the differences they were having with their boss. They had a dominant Judging preference (planful and future orientation) while their boss had a Perceiving preference (emergent and spontaneous orientation). Displaying these differences helped the boss to understand the impact his spontaneous approach had on the team and he agreed to work on setting tighter plans and schedules.

As mentioned above, learning to influence others on the team is a key factor in fixing troubled teams. As team members learn about others types they see how others think and make decisions. They are then better able to use that information to propose new ideas, learn how discussions may need to take extra time, and what others may need in order to reach a decision that is “doable” for all team members. Influencing and communicating with others on the team becomes easier.

Step Three in MBTI Team Building

The last component of an MBTI team building session uses type understanding to help the team address conflict. Teams in trouble must surface their issues and find acceptable ways to address them in order to improve team chemistry.

The connection between type and how conflict occurs is an important one to keep the team focused on their issues. The more clearly people understand themselves and their needs in conflict situations, the more effective they will be in managing their interactions with other team members.

There are four preference pairs in the MBTI model. Two of those pairs the T (thinking) –F (feeling) Dichotomy and the J (judging) –P (perceiving) Dichotomy, called the “conflict pairs”, describe how people focus and respond to conflict (see the graphic below from CPP, Inc.).

In an MBTI team building session, specific discussions occur or may occur regarding how each member reacts to conflict. These discussions are rich as team members learn specific causes of conflict, how they may respond to emotions, and what their ultimate goals are. The TJ Conflict Pair, for example, is satisfied when the conflict is over and the FJ Conflict Pair is happy when there is no lingering bitterness. This process helps people see how members may view the same situation entirely different and may not agree on the real issues or the root cause of the conflict. 

MBTI Dichotomies Examples

Step Four in MBTI Team Building

To close an MBTI team building session, the team should discuss their new structure for working together.

This form of planning is rarely done in their daily work together, but is critical for rebuilding relationships. While both of the above components are important, oftentimes just awareness of type is not sufficient to create change. The team must take their new awareness and make a fresh new strategy for how they will function together in the future.

Based on their new knowledge, team members can identify broken areas and make new agreements on how to work together in the future. Team members can identify new communication processes that better fit with their styles and the team culture. Bringing in the strengths of other team types that are different than the team culture can be discussed as well as how to assure that all preferences are used in decision making. Some common agreements made are:

     “Get all input before key decisions are made”

     “Extroverts on the team will try not to dominate”

     “Be sure to ask the Introverts for their input”

     “Access our members with Intuition preferences for new ideas”

Teams Can Become More Effective with Help from the MBTI Instrument

Effective teams are essential and truly worth setting aside time to get them back on the right path. When teams learn to navigate conflict and resolve interpersonal issues, they are able to move to the next phase of team development known as “norming.” Here trust is established, commitment to the team is made, and accountability improves.

One product development manager commented following an MBTI workshop:  “the trust levels have really improved and we are now more confident that our agreements and actions will be completed.”

Post workshop activities are always recommended to maintain the team’s progress. Leaders are recommended to continue team discussions on team types using various sections of the MBTI report.

The MBTI Helps Increase Team Effectiveness

The MBTI instrument is a powerful tool that can get challenged and troubled teams back on track with long lasting changes. Unlike many team building events, the MBTI provides an effective follow up tool to that teams can use in solving problems and making decisions. 

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