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MBTI, SDI… and who am I?

Using personality preference tests for a lasting impact in your organisation (without breaking the piggy bank)

Background

Throughout my corporate career (which hopefully will be long, happy and prosperous) I have been blessed with participating into various training programmes. From Sales and Negotiations to Project Management, and from Hiring smartly to … parting ways (equally smartly). Some of these trainings included personality tests, two of which are (the famous and popular): MBTI (Myers Briggs) and SDI (Strength Deployment Inventory). I very clearly remember being amazed, if not shocked, when I first saw the results of my personality “preferences” and those of my colleagues. I still recall the moment the penny dropped when I faced the uncomfortable truths about my blind spots. But I also remember the euphoria settling in when self awareness was enhanced. Until the moment the daily routine kicks in and this euphoria is lost in the valley of lethargy.

Challenges

The challenge with all these trainings and realisations is as always the follow up. Ok, you found out that your MBTI profile is, say ENTJ…but two weeks later do you remember what do the letters other than “E” (Extravert) mean? More importantly, do you remember what do they ACTUALLY mean? How does your life become more interesting, useful, exciting by knowing you are Intuitive rather than Sensing? That you are Judging rather than Perceiving? That you are more on the “green side” (Processes) rather than the “blue side” of the SDI triangle (People)? And as a leader of an organisation, how can you make sure you are not throwing money down the drain by having people attend very useful workshops based on global methodologies and systems that do not bring the desired results at the end of the day? Is it the fault of the methodology, the actual tests or is it because of something simpler and fundamental?

How can teams work even more effectively by being aware of people’s personality preferences?

How to make a difference…

What I found out is that these tests/ results can make a difference through a mix of Right attitude, Inquisitive nature, and Persistence (and if you want a nice acronym for cocktail parties, let’s call the magic solution: R.I.P). Like most things in life… simple when you think about it, but difficult to be implemented since urgent priorities always get in the way.

Ok, so here is what happened: following an expensive MBTI training (which I had the chance of attending twice in my career so far!), life got in the way (as it always does) and a few weeks later I could barely remember… anything! Even worse, my co-trainees (who were supposed to benefit from this training, and all of us together as a team) could barely recall the training itself! “Oh yes (said one of them). Ah! I remember now. It’s the one with the letters right?” (referring obviously to the MBTI letters)

Until one day my spouse mentioned to me a very friendly test called 16personalities, which shows preferences and characteristics of people. She urged me to take it, and she was so persuasive that I would have taken any test at that moment, even a pregnancy test! As soon as I completed it- low and behold- I realised it’s nothing other than MBTI for…dummies. Demystified and easy to remember since the result would rank people in one of the 16 potential personalities, all positive and all with strengths (and weaknesses). Easy to remember since if you relate to it (and almost everyone relates to the profile assigned to them). You would take pride thus in being…the Commander, The Adventurer, the Consul, the Campaigner etc. How couldn’t you?

But then again…great! I found a way of having this personality profile in a more memorable way. So what? How does my life become more interesting, useful, exciting?

Next step was to have the whole of my team do the test. Exactly as we did it in the management team, but this time avoiding complex matrices, acronyms etc.

So it was said, and so it was done. The whole team did the test, we shared the results, laughed and talked and left the meeting room feeling more enlightened! I know now that John is a Campaigner and Rob a Mediator, while the team (hopefully) takes confidence from the fact their boss is a Commander. Great! Pat on the back… happy days! We are all in correct roles. But still… Did we manage to turn our lives into something more interesting, useful, exciting? Possibly one would say, but where is the lasting effect?

How is this going to make our lives better one month down the road? How was this different from the training sessions I had received in the past, other than being for free and more user-friendly?

And this is where I gave it a different twist. I assigned to one of my team members the task of collating all this information, and putting it in a way where we will all see on a scale who is where? Group whenever possible and isolate whenever necessary.

So it was said and so it was done.

Ricardo presented this information back to all of us, and -low and behold- more pennies dropped when we saw all the personality preferences of the team as one team rather than isolated cases with a focus on how we compare against each other.

And the real magic started when we started asking questions: “what does it tell us that 2/3 of the engineering team are …?” “What do we need to be aware of, knowing that some sales people are introverts”? “What is the best combination of personalities for this type of assignments?” “That the line manager is more on the Thinking side whereas that team is on the Feeling side?” “Which are our blind spots and our strengths”? “What else?” “What else?” “What else?”

And the answers coming from the team were enlightening, to say the least. We noticed patterns in meetings that can be analysed based on these personalities traits. We identified that specific combinations of people allow for blind spots on specific tasks, leaving us potentially exposed.

We picked up habits that were holding the team back. And the dialogue that followed (characteristic of great teams that aspire to be exceptional) unlocked so much value, I could barely put a dollar figure next to it. One of my personal learnings for instance was that my habit of debriefing after an important/sales meeting with some team members in the car (immediately after the meeting is over) might make sense when you think of this practice in isolation (i.e. debrief now that the information is fresh), but for people who are high on the introvert scale, silence is the recommended way of recharging their batteries after long meetings. So I learnt that one of my practices was not as useful as I thought it was, in the context I decided to apply it.

But was this enough? We learned more about how to work and not work with each other.

The ingenuity of my teammate was even higher since he prepared a quiz for the team with simple (non-corporate) questions: “You see a wolf drowning in a river. What do you do? A. Jump in to save it? B. Turn your back? It’s a wolf after all C. Call for help.” The answers proved to be consistent with people’s personality profiles but sparked very interesting discussions since everyone selected a different answer, leading again to a better understanding of our behaviors in a team. Equally importantly, this experiential method enhanced the learning and memorability potential in the team, since people recall much better whatever they are engaged with.

I left this workshop (and the follow-ups that ensued) enriched, liberated and excited. I learned more about my team in those few hours than over the last year. And I definitely learned even more about myself, for without self awareness we cannot go far (or high).

Taking ourselves through a personality profiling is merely the beginning of a journey that can lead to a truly transformational place, or …to nowhere, if not done properly. So here are a few things I learned empirically:

Conclusion #1: Go for simplicity! Always go for simplicity (K.I.S.S.)

Do everything possible to drop complex, scientific acronyms. They are alluring, I know, but do not necessary add much value. Quite the opposite: bearing in mind that people nowadays are overworked and fight for mental head space every day, simple and memorable can make a big difference rather than complex and acronym-ial. Higher chance people will remember two months down the road being the Commander rather than being ENTJ. This approach also increases the chances of being embraced by your team.

Conclusion #2: Do not sacrifice effectiveness for efficiency

In a world that is more and more divided between people who have time (to do the things that really matter) and people who do not, throwing thousands of pounds on expensive training programmes is not always wise. We tick the box that we managed to implement a best-in-class approach but did we really gain something substantial? And the truth is that… you know it! And I know you know it! And you know I know you know it, but we are all culprits here. What’s the point of just going through the hoops merely to tick the box? Unless you dig deeper, ask the open-ended questions (Why? What? How?..) and capture them “on paper” making sure the learning is solid, the investment (in time and money) will stay only in the virtual sphere… until it’s lost in oblivion. Sacrificing effectiveness for efficiency IS a cardinal sin.

Conclusion #3: Align with your team’s learning style and honor the axiom: Learn -> Do -> Teach

There is no point in doing something for the sake of doing it and then off you jump into the next task, hoping that somehow knowledge will be instilled in people’s mind in a Pentecostal way. People learn differently, but one thing is for sure: experiential learning has higher probability to “stick”. Even though the exact percentages are yet to be defined, it seems we remember a small percentage of what we read or hear, but a high percentage of what we experience. Now if you combine experience with empowerment, the mix turns into magic. It is extremely important to empower our own colleagues to take initiative, simplify things (in a high speed world with lots of clutter and confusion) and forge knowledge and learning through the most effective way that suits them. In my experience, one of the best ways for knowledge acquisition is the axiom: Learn, Do, Teach. You read and hopefully learn something new; you then do it, and finally you teach it (in the form of a workshop for instance). The last one (teach) leaves no room for gaps, since if you have not understood/ mastered something, it will become obvious when you “teach” it and you fail to either communicate it or answer your audience’s questiosn.

Conclusion #4: It does not have to cost thousands of £$€

Luckily for us digital and affordable tools are within our grasp nowadays. Expensive and exclusive tests have multiple online versions that are either free or affordable, helping us through the journey of unleashing human potential… the potential of our teams… our own personal potential! Consider them first before you upgrade to expensive, customised trainings.

Conclusion #5: The only place where you can find Success before Work… is in a dictionary

We are all busy; more than ever before. The technological promise of freedom as it was depicted in the Sci-Fi stories of the 60s, 70s, 80s and kind of 90s is turning into a technological nightmare. Space to think and enjoy life is being substituted by increased productivity and results. I will not ponder more on this, since this is the topic of various other books and blogs, but because of this: we all want the magic formula: “share with me quickly the bullet points”. Unfortunately the bullet points will not get you far. Transformation happens only if you invest the time: when you can see in your team members’ eyes that they really want to get on to the next task, call, assignment but you keep them there, asking the right questions; the difficult questions. And nothing compares with the sound of the penny dropping, for this sound indicates that a new connection has been established in their mind. Learning took place; and it’s the kind of learning that can have lasting effect.

Conclusion #6: Go beyond the sterile metrics and never forget that it is “your people” (and nothing but “your people”) who can make or break the version of the future you are after

When we think of our companies, our roles, our careers, we tend to focus on strategy, financial performance, shareholder value, economic value, market share (you want me to keep going on?): all very important… yet sterile. But a company is much more than this: it’s a universe of endless possibilities, consisting of individuals with endless possibilities. At the end of the day, it’s not “the company” that impacts individuals, but individuals that affect individuals within a specific setup we all call “The Company”.

As a leader you cannot be accomplished until the moment your team has spread its wings as far as possible, is flying as high as possible and is as coherent and solid as possible.

And how can we bring our teams to that level of performance without having the team “know thyself?” Be aware of their strong points and blind spots? Be aware of their sensitivities and thick skin areas?

Doing it properly might simply take nothing more than
a big smile on our face as the pennies drop (the Right attitude), Inquisitive nature (what does this tell us? what else? what do we think) and Persistence (go back on the results and revisit them again and again with your team).

R.I.P. !!!


When we think of our companies, our roles, our careers, we tend to focus on strategy, financial performance, shareholder value. All very important, yet sterile. But a company is much more than this; at the end of the day, it’s not “the company” that impacts individuals, but individuals that impact individuals within a specific setup we all call “The company”.

Niko Kavakiotis

Niko KavakiotisHead of Building Performance & Sustainability UK
Siemens Smart Infrastructure