Here at UTG, we recently added a weekly presentation to our office-wide Morning Meetings. Topics can be chosen by the presenter, and will focus on how we can grow and be better as an organization without necessarily having to stick to our typical, tech-focused presentations.
Knowing I have a presentation to make in the near future, I thought about the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI), a personality test I had to take in college as part of a Professional Development class. I enjoy working with each of my coworkers as they all bring a different energy and approach to our work, and I figured the test could be an interesting and useful way to illustrate those differences, and could potentially lead to even better team communication.
I mentioned it to my boss who enthusiastically agreed (she was a Psych major after all) and I quickly emailed out a free version of the test to my colleagues. And then I got to thinking…
We’re doing these tests more for fun and as a jumping off point for discussion and collaboration. But, there are organizations, individuals, and schools of thought that take these tests very seriously. Conversely, there are those who completely dismiss the idea of using personality tests in the workplace.
I decided to take a look into how these tests are put to use in the workplace and I’ll be honest, I’ve found pretty mixed reviews…
Looking in to this heavily analyzed topic, I found no shortage of articles and summaries touting the benefits of using the MBTI to ‘type’ employees. Some of the most common arguments for type-testing involved…
Almost immediately I found articles that agreed with my initial belief that the Myers-Briggs can bring about some positives in workplace communication. Elena Bajic said in an article for Forbes that personality-typing in an office can aid managers with team communications, “…because you will understand how each person works best and what they need to do their job well.” This made a lot of sense to me, as I’d come to the same conclusion regarding peer to peer communications, but I hadn’t previously considered the value it could add to manager-employee relations.
Promotes Differences as Valued
The MBTI also serves to highlight differences between team members, while taking care not to claim that any one type is inherently better than any other. This can be useful for organizations looking to diversify their teams and tactics. Using the Myers-Briggs to promote differences and diversity as organizational values, rather than trying to force homogeny, can bring about a more well-rounded approach to organizational goals.
Plays to Strengths
‘Typing’ employees can quickly provide a tangible set of strengths for each person, which can be invaluable to newly formed teams, or to those undertaking a new project. Understanding who in the office has a penchant for numbers, who is the most gregarious, or who is the most persuasive, means that teams can be built with efficiency and effectiveness in mind. Knowing your Analysts from your Diplomats can make short work of multi-faceted problems, and allows a company to avoid misallocating its workforce.
However, not all of the articles I read took a positive stance on MBTI. In fact, many were quick to point out the dangers of trying to boil down the complexities that comprise personality into 16 rigid categories. Some of the most salient reasons included…
Reliance on Self-Awareness
Like most personality tests, the MBTI gives results based on how the person being typed responds to a series of questions. Which, as Peter Bregman points out in an article for Harvard Business Review, “self-assessments, by definition, reinforce a person’s self-image…[and] personality tests reinforce our blind spots.” Every person has preconceived notions about their own strengths and weaknesses as well as aspirational and societal reasons that make it near impossible to answer completely accurately. The test could serve to reinforce these distorted views of ourselves.
Assumes a Static Dichotomy
Another pratfall of Myers-Briggs is it doesn’t easily account for people who fall somewhere in the middle of any of the four metrics. Business Insider Australia’s Jesse Olsen and Peter Gahan use some humorous MTBI-esque acronyms to explain that the test isn’t necessarily static. “Most of us are about average on at least one of the four dimensions, which means that we probably teeter on the edge between two (or more) types. Answer one of the questions differently, and you might fall into a different personality type.” This means that assuming the test results are a hard and fast type-cast can make for flawed decision making.
Amplifies Perceived Weaknesses
The flip-side to using the MBTI to efficiently assign team members to certain tasks based on strengths, is that the test isn’t actually predictive of performance and can be misused when evaluating teams. It could be very easy to inadvertently dismiss qualified or motivated team members based on the perceived weaknesses of their Myers-Briggs types. It would be a shame to pass over an employee for a client-facing role simply because they tested as Introverted, because that employee may have had a particular knowledge, passion, or approach that could have been a real asset to gaining a client’s business or trust. Using type-testing as a key factor in eliminating personnel from certain projects or functions could prove to be a wholly discouraging and highly problematic approach to team building.
Over the course of my research, my focus on type-testing revolved around team-building and the pros and cons therein. But, I did keep coming across a specific instance in which using the MBTI seemed to be universally admonished…
As a Hiring Tool
Again and again, I came across articles from across the business sphere warning that Myers-Briggs should never be used during the hiring process in order to screen candidates. The test isn’t predictive of performance as I mentioned above. It also opens up a lot of questions of ethical hiring and possible discrimination. In fact, the MBTI® Code of Ethics even states that it’s “unethical and in many cases illegal to require job applicants to take the Indicator if the results will be used to screen out applicants.” While I was unable to locate any specific instances of the test being used in an illegal manner with regards to hiring, I’d personally refrain from using it in any part of the hiring process and would instead view it as a tool to strengthen a team that is already in place.
Overall, I believe the MBTI results can be used to foster a more understanding and cooperative environment amid newly formed and already established teams. But I think it’s important to state that the results should be taken with a grain of salt, care should be taken in how they are interpreted and how that information is subsequently used by managers and teams, and the test should absolutely remain separate from the hiring process. Still, with those caveats very much in mind, I’m cautiously optimistic that our discussion of our results in our upcoming team meeting will remain positive and productive, and might even lead to a stronger team.