People develop different ways of categorising the world around them to enhance their understanding of it. There are a number of systems which have evolved over time in order to define how individuals do this. In the early 19th Century Carl Jung, Sigmund Freud and Alfred Adler became prominent psychological theorists. Jung a Swiss psychiatrist developed a theory of categorisation called typology in his attempts to reconcile Freud and Adler’s philosophies. The underlying principle being that it was a person’s psychological type which would ultimately determine a person’s judgement.
The Myers-Briggs® Assessment has its roots in Jung’s theory and aims to explain normal differences between individuals. It is both simple and fast to administer to either individual s or groups (either paper and pencil or computerised). This tool has been revised numerous times since its appearance in 1942. Today it is available in more than 21 languages. The South African statutory body the Health Professions Council has approved its use within South Africa. There are have been over 50 years of research on this instrument. As many as 1.5 million assessments are administered annually to individuals, including to employees of most Fortune 500 companies. For this reason it is well known and trusted for ascertaining normal personality differences. Within the work environment it is used extensively in such fields as team building, conflict resolution, career development, coaching, performance management, leadership development, stress management and for several over purposes.
A summary of this model is as follows:
- Orientation of energy: Extraverts (E) direct their energy primarily outwardly toward other people and events while Introverts (I) direct their energy primarily inward toward their environment, thoughts, and experiences.
- Information gathering: Sensing (S) individuals take in information primarily through the five senses and focus on immediate experiences. Intuitive (N) orientated people take in information primarily through their sixth sense, hunches and impressions and are more interested in future possibilities.
- Decision Making: Thinking (T) focused individuals make decisions primarily on logic and objectivity while those more Feeling (F) dominate make decisions primarily based on personal values and the effects their decisions will have on others.
- Relating with the outside world: Judging (J) prefer structure, plans, and achieving closure quickly while the Perceiving (P) prefer flexibility, spontaneity and keeping their options open.
Thus there are four dichotomies, each of which has two opposite preference poles. The interplay between the four preferred poles defines personality further. Each individual will have varying amounts for all preferences with one being dominant per dichotomy. As a result personality is described as a four letter type (total of 16 types being possible), for example an ISTJ or ENTJ.
Employees are often empowered when working with this tool as it is not restrictive. This is beneficial as it prevents an employee coming to a belief that an assessment tool stereotypes and boxes them in. Often the psychologist is just the facilitator who guides employees to a realisation of what their types are. In a team building session it is normally the colleagues who are the real teachers within the team. Each individual becomes more open to listen to their colleges.
Some interesting MBTI® workplace findings;
- Stress attacks us when we’re forced to use our non-preferences more than our preferences. When stressed we also move from our preferences to our non-preferences naturally, this too is stressful.
- Differences in how people gather information can be one of the greatest sources of miscommunication. Consider how a strong Intuitive sort (N) would give directions versus someone else who has a strong Sensing (S) preference.
- People with a preference for Judging (J) when making decisions may conflict with one who prefers a Feeling (F) process. For example in a merger and acquisition one director might focus more on the financials while another may insist on an HR due diligence.
- Introverts (I) spend significantly more time than Extraverts (E) conducting ‘head down’ work. Extraverts (E) are likely to spend more time working in open plan areas.
In 1901 Shell started operating in Australia and now employs approximately 3 000 employees. Shell finds, develops and supplies about one-third of Australia’s petroleum requirements. A recent case study revealed a challenging problem where individuals struggled with engagement and affiliation. In particular there were strong differences in communication styles, decision making preferences and cultural backgrounds.
They decided to make use of the MBTI® within team workshop settings to address these areas. Investigation found that these workshops resulted in increasing trust, constructive use of personality type differences, improved performance and efficiency within teams which ultimately lead to considerable dollar savings.
Employees can no longer function just within one preference per dichotomy. For example imagine if a CEO only worked according to a plan / strategy without considering future economic changes. This assessment enables one to educate employees about their and others preferences and non-preferences and to analyse the team as a whole for strengths and blind spots. Employees do not divulge personal information so they are usually prepared to participate regardless of the current health of the team, increasing the likelihood of performance and productivity increasing.
Laura aims through interactive practical exercises to empower individuals to understand what their and other’s preferences are and the implications of this. The team members generally have bought into the different definitions of type and what types they are likely to reflect before they receive any feedback from the assessment questionnaire they completed. As a result the theory comes to life and employees are able to apply the principles to the work environment without focusing simple on the personality report which they are given. This also means that they are more likely to recall what they learnt from the session long after it was actually held.
Written by Laura Simpson
HR – Organisational Development
Sources of information:
- Centre for Applications of Psychological Type (CAPT) - History, Reliability and Validity of the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) Instrument by
- CPP Asia Pacific, Shell Enhances Team Performance and Cross-Cultural Understanding Using the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator Instrument.
- J.van Rooyen, J. de Beer, D Proctor, Myers-Briggs Type Indicator® Training Manual (Fifth Edition)
- Toxic leaders affect companies, and governments. How to deal with them
- Why using Myers-Briggs at work Might Be a Terrible Idea (MBTI)
- The upside of anger: why workers should express their emotions
- The right person for the job? Weeding out personality-test fakers isn't easy
- Why workplaces must resist the cult of personality testing