What’s the Myers-Briggs Type for Your Company?

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December 2003

What’s the Myers-Briggs Type for Your Company?

CIDMIconNewsletter Bill Hackos, Vice President, Comtech Services, Inc.

My role in preparing for the Innovator’s Forum at our Best Practices Conference in Seattle in September was to understand the nature of corporate culture. I read several books on the subject. One that is especially interesting is The Character of Organizations, by William Bridges (Consulting Psychologists Press 1992).

Bridges applies the Jungian type model to companies. The Jungian type model is further developed by Myers and Briggs in their Myers-Briggs Type Indicator test. Bridges has developed a similar instrument, the Organizational Character Index, to type organizations.

Most of us have experienced the fun of taking the Myers-Briggs test to determine our own personality types. We are Introverted or Extroverted, iNtuitive or Sensing, Thinking or Feeling, Judging or Perceiving. The four sets of binary traits result in 16 Myers-Briggs personality types. It’s beyond the scope of this review to go into the details of the meaning of each of the personality types. However, we recommend two books on the subject: Gifts Differing by Isabel Briggs Myers with Peter B. Myers (Consulting Psychologists Press 1980) and Please Understand Me: Character & Temperament Types by David Keirsey and Marilyn Bates (Prometheus Nemesis Book Company 1984).

As an example, my Myers-Briggs type is INTP. I am quite introverted (I). I’m an innovator and not happy following a set of rules (N). I tend to be interested in ideas and the relationships between ideas rather than in people and interpersonal relationships (T). Finally, I’m more interested in pursuing new paths than in accomplishing closure in any one area (P). I like my personality type. Most people thank their lucky stars that they have the Myers-Briggs type they have. The fascination with the Myers-Briggs type for people is that by looking at a description of our types we see our personality in a mirror, and we like what we see.

Unlike the personal Myers-Briggs type, the organizational type doesn’t come from our genes but instead is related to the nature of the business that the organization conducts. Manufacturing companies tend to be more introverted than service companies. Startup companies tend to be more intuitive than established organizations. The type perceived from outside an organization is likely to be very different from the view from inside. Our views from outside the organization are determined by our interface. From outside, we usually see the Myers-Briggs type of sales and management. Accounting is hidden from outsiders and will have a very different type. Departments within organizations will likely have a type very different from the organizations as viewed from outside.

Bridges uses the same organizational type terminology as the Myers-Briggs personality type: I/E, N/S, T/F, and P/J. He gives detailed descriptions of the 16 organizational types but he also associates each tendency with a simple phrase to jog our memories:

  • Introverted-takes cues and draws power from within, is fairly closed
  • Extroverted-focuses outward, responds to external stimuli
  • iNtuitive-concerns itself with possibilities, attends to the big picture
  • Sensing-concerns itself with actualities, attends to detail
  • Thinking-depends on impersonal procedures and principles
  • Feeling-reaches conclusions on the basis of values and beliefs
  • Perceiving-likes to keep options open, distrusts too much definition
  • Judging-likes things spelled out and definite, seeks closure

Bridges has an appendix with a short questionnaire that you can use to type your own organization. In preparation for this review, I gave the questionnaire to all the Comtech staff. Our consulting group, JoAnn Hackos, Tina Hedlund, and I, all arrived at the same type for our organization. We are ENFP. We weren’t surprised by this result because this is the most common type for a small consulting organization. As a service organization, Comtech is certainly extroverted, being outwardly focused toward our customers. We are iNtuitive-our product is ideas. We are Feeling because we’ve tended to focus on the people within our organization rather than procedures and principles. After all, we sell our consultants and their ideas. Finally, we are Perceiving. We are always keeping up with technology, constantly learning, and planning new services for our customers.

We were surprised by the questionnaire results we got from the rest of our staff. They produced results that were related to the function they had within the company. Our business manager saw the company in terms of accounting, finance, and management. Our Webmaster saw us as a software organization. Our clerical staff saw us in terms of their own functions. The only trait that was identified by all the staff was Perceiving.

As a publications manager, you will view your company very differently than your staff will. If you have contractors or outsource organizations working for you, they will also have different perceptions. If you really want to understand the culture of your information-development organization, you’ll have to ask your staff! You have too much contact with higher management to use your own perceptions as representative.

The Character of Organizations is not a book you will want to read from cover to cover. You’ll want to read the first two chapters, then delve into the questionnaire. After you have determined your organization’s type, go to the sections that describe that type and what it means to your organization. After all of the type descriptions, Bridges goes on to discuss implications of an organization’s type.

We know that a personal Myers-Briggs type changes for individuals as they age. There are also gender differences. For organizations, the change in type may be much more profound as companies grow and mature. A type that fits a small company cannot sustain a large company. Bridges discusses the evolution of type in organizations. He also explains how managers can steer their developing organizations to a more appropriate type.

If you read the book, be sure to complete the questionnaire and have your staff complete it. We believe that many information-development organizations within large high-tech companies are ISTJ or ISFJ. I know that some information-development organizations need to be more aware of customer and user needs. They need to be more Extroverted. Likewise, some departments need to be more iNtuitive. They need to be become more responsive to change and innovation.

Bridges ends his discussion by comparing individuals’ Myers-Briggs types with their jobs and organizations. Individuals tend to move into occupations and organizations that are compatible with their own types. In our experiment with Comtech staff, we found that the type our staff members determined for Comtech was similar not only to their job functions but to their own personality types.

We recognize, of course, that a personality type does not adequately describe an individual. Similarly, an organizational type does not completely describe the culture of a company. Many other factors are involved. Some companies have very strong cultures that build great loyalty in their employees, which can get the company through hard times. Others have weaker cultures with little employee loyalty. Bridges’ book does not address all of these issues of company culture, but it certainly provides a good start. CIDMIconNewsletter

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