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.