I have learned a lot from instruments designed to help me understand my own personality types. Some of these personality type tools give results that are expressed as letter combinations such as ENTJ or ESTJ. Once these letter combination results are generated, books and other resources are required to help us remember what our letters mean, how to interact with people based on their letter combinations, etc. Other personality type tools are very simple and are based on labels like Lion, Warrior, Nurturer, or Teacher. I have learned a great deal from both of these different tools and recommend them for different purposes.
For the process of team development, I have found that label-based personality type tools tend to be easy to remember, and this is critical in the process of building trust and safety. For example, I am an ENTJ according to Myers-Briggs, and a Warrior or Lion according other simpler tools. It is easier for my team members to remember that I am a Warrior and a lot easier to remember the positive and negative traits of a Warrior, than it is to remember the personality traits that an ENTJ typically displays.
Of all these tools, my favorite is the Medicine Wheel. C Clinton Sidle offers a very good variation on the Medicine Wheel in his book, The Leadership Wheel. I highly recommend this book as it provides supervisors with a good description of the various Leadership Wheel types and how to work with them to develop healthy relationships, teams, and organizations.
The basics of the Medicine Wheel
The Medicine Wheel divides all personality types into 4 main categories. These types are listed below with short summaries of the positive and negative or “shadow” areas of each type:
Warrior/North - Positive: courageous, takes charge and willing to take risks. Shadow: may bulldoze others and can be very hurtful.
Nurturer/South - Positive: wise, patient and understanding. Shadow: may hesitate to move forward if there is any disagreement.
Critical Thinker/West - Positive: detailed oriented, can analyze lots of information. Shadow: may hesitate to move forward without all the necessary information, can suffer from analysis/paralysis.
Visionary/East - Positive: Creative and innovative. Shadow: may not be detailed oriented and things may “fall through the cracks”.
Incorporating personality types into the team culture
So how do you do this? How does a supervisor identify the personality types of the team and begin the balancing process? Unlike identifying strengths, there is no online survey that gives us our Medicine Wheel personality type. I feel this is actually a benefit because it forces us to think carefully and self-identify.
Many people struggle selecting one type that defines them. Some people feel that they are in between two types. Others feel that they can identify with aspects from all areas of the Wheel. When people struggle, I explain that there is no correct answer, the point is to pick the one type that most closely describes them. Sometimes the shadow areas are the ones that tells us where we fit.
Start with a team retreat
A good way to start the process of team building is to schedule a 2-3 hour retreat to cover team strengths and team make-up. As prep work, all team members, including the supervisor, self-identify into their Medicine Wheel type. To start the retreat, the team members divide into subgroups based on their respective Medicine Wheel areas; North, South, East, and West. This quickly gives the supervisor a sense of the team makeup in terms of the numbers of warriors, nurturers, visionaries and critical thinkers.
Once the subgroups are gathered together, they are asked to write down what puts them “in the box” with other personality types and their own (for more information about being “in the box,” refer to this resource from our web site). Once they are all done, the subgroups report their observations to the other teams. This is a significant activity for two reasons:
1. It illustrates that we all have good and bad personality traits and begins the development of a common language that can be used to help in the process of sharing “honoring feedback,” which will be discussed in detail when we reach Step #6.
2. It gives the supervisor an understanding of the team’s makeup. For example, let’s say there are 20 staff members and 14 of them are critical thinkers. The supervisor can quickly see that there is a danger of the team thinking too much about details and not acting as quickly as needed. Or, say there is a small team of 6 staff members and 4 of them are warriors. In this case, the supervisor can quickly see that conflict and bulldozing may be a risk that has to be managed.
Balancing the team with strengths
If all team members have identified their strengths, they can start leveraging them to minimize the shadow areas of their personality. For example, I am a Warrior that really struggles with being too critical of others and hurting people with the words I use. As a supervisor, this shadow area is extremely detrimental. I can quickly intimidate those who report to me, anger superiors, and alienate peers. I have come to call this, “bad Al.” Sad to say, I found myself failing as a leader a few years ago and my Warrior shadow was a big part of the reason.
Once I accepted my Warrior shadow areas, I started leveraging my “empathy” and “relator” strength themes to identify with others and began to use my adaptability strength theme to minimize the negative actions that come so easily as a result of my warrior personality tendencies.
I also have “strategy” and “significance” in my top 5 themes, but it is very hard to be strategic and have a significant impact on others if I am intimidating direct reports and alienating colleagues. So when I started adapting my behavior to maximize my positive personality tendencies, I also started balancing my strengths and personality types to improve the quality of my leadership.
Documenting and sharing the team’s personality mix
By documenting the strengths as well as the personality mix of the team with an easy-to-access reference tool, all team members, including the supervisor, will develop an understanding of how to maximize every member’s positive traits while minimizing their negative tendencies. Combining strengths with positive personality traits will start reducing conflict and growing a sense of confidence in the team. This is key to better performance.
Through the years of working with my strength themes and those of my staff members, I have learned that while identifying strength themes and personality traits are important and critical steps, the process of sharing this information requires a lot of trust.
Maximizer: People with the Maximizer theme focus on others' strengths as a way to stimulate personal and group excellence. They seek to transform something strong into something superb.
Are you a Maximizer? Do you know how many people in your team are Maximizers? The definition above is one of 34 groundbreaking strength theme definitions from Gallup and the inspiring Marcus Buckingham. If you are interested in maximizing your own performance and the collective performance of your team members, I highly recommend you identify all the strength themes in your team and start leveraging that information.
I often hear managers and supervisors say "I am playing to the strengths of my team." Unfortunately, I usually find that the supervisor has not partnered with the team to identify or define what team members are naturally good at or what they love to do. It is difficult to play to a team's strengths if the team members' strengths are not defined and understood by all.
I was facilitating a session when the subject of strengths came up. One of the participants was a business owner and I shared the definition of a Maximizer as a way to get into the subject. His eyes opened wide when he realized how his business could benefit from this strength theme. When I mentioned that some of his current employees may have that strength theme, he quickly asked how he could find out. We can all identify with the enthusiasm this man found in the recognition that this potent strength was lying dormant in his team, ready to be unleashed. The even more exciting revelation is that Maximizer is just one of 34 strength themes our teams can benefit from!
Incorporating Strengths into the team culture
So, how do you this? How does a supervisor incorporate the strengths of all staff members into the team’s culture? In my experience,incorporating strengths includes three stages. These are:
Stage 1. Identifying the supervisor’s and the team members’ top 5
Stage 2. Documenting and sharing the top 5 of all team members
Stage 3. Strategically applying strengths through staff performance
The first thing for supervisors to do is to identify their own top 5 strength themes. Once this is done, the supervisor should identify the strengths of all staff members. I recommend that supervisors identify their own top 5 themes first because the supervisors have to walk the walk before they can talk the talk. Knowing their own top 5 will help them learn about themselves and how to use their own strengths to start leading others through the process.
Now Discover Your Strengths by Marcus Buckingham and Strengthfinder 2.0 by Tom Rath are excellent resources for identifying and defining strength themes. Both books provide a good overview of the strengths model and provide codes to online surveys that will give participants their top 5 strengths themes.
Once all team members' strengths are identified, the supervisor should capture this information and share it with all team members in an easily accessible format. The process of incorporating strengths into a team’s culture is a learning process. Having quick access to the strengths of all team members is critical.
Through the years, my teams have developed websites that contains this information. I call these websites "Strengths Dashboards." Strengths Dashboards are powerful resources for developing strategies and executing tactics based on the team members' strengths.
I find that the best way to strategically use the strengths of all team members is to include strengths in the performance review process of every employee. Adequate performance review documents should include the goals for each employee and the projects or initiatives the employees will be responsible for executing.
The supervisor can work with each staff member to discuss ways in which their strengths can be used specifically to assist the employee achieve the goals outlined in the employee’s performance review documentation.
For example, here are a couple of goals that I could use to leverage my strength themes for common managerial objectives:
- Leverage Al’s strategic strength to finalize and implement the unit’s strategic plan with a cross-functional team from the division.
- Proactively use Al’s empathy and relator strengths to develop an understanding of what the team members are experiencing as we merge two teams together.
Through years of working with my strength themes and those of my staff members, I have learned that while identifying strength themes is an important and critical step, supervisors also need to understand the overall positive and negative personality tendencies of all team members.
It is amazing to me how most teams are brought together and asked to accomplish extremely complicated goals without taking steps to develop a sense of trust among team members. I completely understand that factors beyond our control will often require leaders to quickly assemble teams to perform tasks in short periods of time. This is simply a reality of our professional lives. However, I have found that supervisors can anticipate this need and work proactively to develop foundational safety and a level of trust for their core team. The Step Ladder of Group Development, presented later in this article, is an effective way for leaders to introduce the principle of foundational trust and safety to their team members, colleagues and their management.
Developing foundational safety is undoubtedly an investment of time and effort. While skepticism is often an obstacle to this process, the logic behind it makes a lot of sense and tends to turn skepticism into curiosity (and often acceptance). If we think about the way most teams are assembled, we come to realize that we often ask our teams to jump into incredibly difficult situations without providing them with the tools and knowledge they need to discover how to learn about each others strengths, how to share feedback or how to avoid conflict.
Can we really expect people who don't know each other well to support each other during unexpected challenges and problematic situations in order to accomplish outstanding results? This is a tough position in which to put our people, but we do this all the time!
The reality I have faced is that teams will perform well for a short period of time before costly staff turnover or complicated conflict situations arise. Of course, not all turnover is related to staff conflict and negative relationships. Every now and then, staff members do find better opportunities that they want to pursue, but in my experience, most turnover occurs as the result of staff dissatisfaction with the work environment. This is a costly problem for any team and a serious blow to its ability to consistently deliver results. In another common scenario, "cliques" develop and staff conflict becomes part of the work environment.
If the goal of the team is to consistently exceed expectations and deliver great results, low turnover and diffusing conflict are critical goals for management.
Doesn't it make sense that we invest time in our team's relationships and prepare all staff members to manage conflict? Even if our answer to this question is “yes,” we still don't make the investment, do we? Instead, we allow cynics, who feel that trust building is a bunch of nonsense, wrongfully lead us into jumping ahead towards goals, time and time again. Why do we let this happen? Is getting to know each other and our commitment to the team's success truly a waste of time? Somehow, it is deemed better to leap carelessly into projects and handle conflict when it arises. Inevitably, conflict does arise and management then spends hours and hours of valuable time trying to remedy situations that are often full of rancor and beyond repair. This simply does not make a lot of sense to me.
Once strengths and personality traits are identified and the process of building safety has begun, supervisors can proactively work on expanding the team sphere of influence and establishing the concept of the safety zone. This is the focus on my next article, “6 Steps to Superior Leadership: Growing the Sphere of Influence.”
The graphic above, credited to Rod Napier and widely used by my colleagues at Cornell University's Organizational Development, provides a good starting point for the safety and trust conversation. Although this is difficult and requires careful facilitation, team members can use this model to ask the very important questions ” Who am I?” (for step #1) and “Who are you?” (for step #2) as a way to start developing productive relationships.
I add a very tough and personal question to step #1 when I think about who I am in all my relationships. I ask myself, "will I seek to do anything that may hurt the other person's reputation?" By this I mean doing things such as talking about someone instead of having the courage to give honoring feedback to that person directly or looking to publicly discredit someone I disagree with or may not like. This is a key breakthrough in my experience. I know how it feels when others belittle me in public and I also know, very well, how it feels when I find out others are talking about something I can do better but not telling me about it directly. Therefore, I must avoid doing any of that to others. If I can truly do this, I have an easier time telling anyone that they can trust me.
If we have enough courage to ask this of ourselves and check our own intent, we may find that the answer we uncover is not a good one. If that’s the case, we are presented with an excellent opportunity to build safety and trust. Think about it. If we can honestly say that our intent is to help all other team members, even when they do something that frustrates us, then when others ask us, "who are you?" in step #2, we can honestly say:
"I am someone that you can trust because I will work hard NOT to hurt you or your reputation in any way and I will do my best to always be straight with you."