Using Personality Analysis Tools to Build Your Team

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December 2000

Using Personality Analysis Tools to Build Your Team

CIDMIconNewsletter With contributions from Beth Barrow, JoAnn Hackos, Tina Hedlund, and Christina Meyer

At the New Managers’ 2000 Conference, Beth Barrow of Nortel Networks introduced all of us to the challenge of becoming better people managers. She pointed out that in a recent informal survey she conducted of new managers, everyone agreed that only 35% of the skills we learn as senior writers and editors in information development still apply when we become managers. That leaves 65% for new learning, and much of that new learning concerns understanding how people tick.

People skills, Beth explained, make up about 50% of an effective manager’s skill set. People skills include motivation, empathy, listening, understanding, challenging, and knowing how hard to push at any one particular time.

To make the point clear, Beth introduced a scenario to challenge our thinking about knowing our people.

Introducing the Scenario
As a new manager, you are given an emergency project to perform and analyze 20 phone surveys in a week. The project, which has high visibility in your company, is very vaguely defined. All your team members are fully occupied with their current projects. Who are you going to select for this additional work?

We learned that one of the best places to begin to tackle this scenario is with the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI). Beth uses the MBTI to discover who might be good at which task and who might struggle with a task. She believes that the tool helps her focus on her employees’ strongest points and be more empathetic with their struggles.

Beth did not research personality analysis, nor did she have a strategic plan in place when she first considered the benefits of using personality analysis tools. Just for fun, an employee gave Beth a Myers-Briggs test and asked to see the results. Team members gave the test to the rest of the group as a joke. However, as staff development issues came up, Beth found herself referring to Myers-Briggs to ensure that she handled an employee situation effectively. Over time, she realized that understanding the personality types of her team helped create a smoother running and more pleasant work environment.

Myers-Briggs Type Indicator

The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) is based on the personality theories of Karl Jung. Katharine Briggs and Isabel Myers created the tool to improve access to Jung’s ideas. Based on four characteristics, the MBTI places individuals in one of 16 personality categories.



















Characteristic 1: Energy Source

Extraversion (E)

Introversion (I)





shared space

alone space

social energy



energy conservation


Characteristic 2: Collecting Data

Sensing (S)

iNtuitive (N)





what is

what could be






Characteristic 3: Making Decisions

Thinking (T)

Feeling (F)














Characteristic 4: Focus on Data or Decision









need to decide

reluctant to decide

Myers-Briggs in the Workplace

Understanding the personality type of your staff members will help you communicate with them more effectively. The four categories of personality preferences help you predict how people see the world around them and what information they consider valuable. Knowing how to communicate with your employees is essential to your success as a manager.

Back to the Scenario
Let’s turn again to our critical, fast-paced project. Beth explains that

The person you select for the assignment needs a fair number of important characteristics:

  • Enjoys working with others
  • Works with little or no structure or background information
  • Has solid analytical skills
  • Is thoughtful and considerate of others
  • Is able to make quick decisions

As any experienced manager will tell you, this assignment is going to be a challenge, especially in the world of information developers since many information developers are strong Introverts. Based on a Myers-Briggs profile, you probably should look for an Extrovert/Intuitive balanced between Thinking and Feeling (an ENT or ENF). You need Judging to bring the project to a quick resolution, or Perceiving to ask lots of good questions.

For an Introvert, the project would be a stretch. For a Sensing type, you will need to provide additional background information and guidance.

In a study conducted in 1987, Dr. JoAnn Hackos and Steve Tilden studied the personality types of three groups of information developers. Included in the study was the writing staff at Comtech, the instructional design/training staff at ADP Dealer Services, and the members of the Willamette Valley (Portland, OR) chapter of the STC. Among these groups, we found that Introverts dominated among the information development group and Extroverts dominated among the trainers. The dominant type among the information developers was INTJ.

Perhaps the most interesting characteristic of INTJs is their ability to get the job done. They prefer to get energy from working alone, they can be trusted to have new ideas and prefer taking new approaches to problem solving, they have strong ideas about the rules, and they like to get the job done. INTJs, as you might suspect, make excellent editors.

If information developers tend toward INTJ, managers can use an understanding of this type to play to their strengths and assist with potential weaknesses. INTJs want to experiment and may become frustrated if they have to stick to the “old ways” of doing things. However, they prefer to work on their own, establish a plan, and then share their information with others. They work quickly to achieve their goals and become frustrated with indecision. They’re future thinkers but they also want all the pieces to fit together logically.

The Scenario once again
The scenario leads us to conclude that we should assign an ENTJ or an ENFJ to the project. But what if none of your staff members falls into one of these categories? Here’s a typical situation:

Harriet, the manager of this team, faces a dilemma. She knows her staff members quite well and doesn’t have any single individual perfectly suited for the assignment. Here is how her staff of four shapes up:

  • John, the lead editor, is an INTJ
  • Lucy, a senior writer, is an ENTP
  • Blake, a new writer, is an ISTJ
  • George, the oldest member of the team, is an ENFP

John could easily lead the effort and deal with the uncertainty, but he’s not a “people person.” In fact, he is a very strong Introvert and has a problem with phone calls. George, who is very comfortable working with others and is very empathetic, has a very hard time meeting deadlines. Blake is very new and needs a lot of direction.

Perhaps, rather than selecting one person for this project, you need to have a small team. In one case, Beth Barrow found an employee who scored as a very strong J and who was very good at project management. She teamed him with another employee who had weak project management skills and was floundering in a project management role. She created a mentor relationship that enabled her to support an individual who had potential.

We’re not supplying the solution. In fact, there isn’t just one. We invite you to send your thoughts to the editor.

The next step

If you want to incorporate personality analysis tools into your team environment, Beth suggests starting out with a lighter tool. You may need to evaluate how your group is going to respond and gain some trust before you move on to something more serious. Your team, she says, is afraid of being labeled. However, if you show that you are willing to laugh at yourself, then you will create a relaxed atmosphere and avoid over analyzing.


Bridges, William, 1992. The Character of Organizations. Consulting Psychologists Press, Palo Alto, CA. ISBN 0-89106-052-9

Hackos, JoAnn and Stephen Tilden, 1988. “Personality Type in Technical Communication.” STC 35th Annual Conference Proceedings.

Keirsey, David and Marilyn Bates, 1978. Please Understand Me. Prometheus Nemesis Books, Del Mar, CA. ISBN 0-935652-02-7

Kroeger, Otto and Janet Thuseson, 1988. Type Talk: Or How to Determine Your Personality Type and Change Your Life. Delcorte Press, New York, NY. ISBN 0-385-29648-7