Meyers Briggs and Project Team Formation

While I am not a professional teacher, I find that in business and consulting I am teaching all the time.  Several years ago thanks to the trusting invitation of Professor Jan Spyridakis, I found myself teaching graduate school at the University of Washington in the Human Centered Design and Engineering Department.  I enjoy teaching a lot, but I was not pleased with the student evaluations after the first couple of courses.  I bought lots of books and several DVDs on how to teach graduate students and learner centered design, but I never found the time to absorb them.

In a conversation with Dan Turner, Associate Dean of the UW Foster Business School, I asked how he had improved his graduate school teaching.  He suggested that I should look up Professor Emeritus Harvey Brightman of Georgia State University.  He described how much he got out of Harvey’s Master Teacher program.  So I gave Harvey a call and arranged to attend his course at Emory University in early September 2011.

At the start of the class, Harvey made the provocative statement “your students are not like you.”  I muttered to myself “thanks for the blindingly obvious.  Today’s students only want edutainment in the class room.  I know they are not like me.”

Harvey continued “Your students are not like you.”

I looked up from my notes to see if he was senile and liked repeating himself.

Once more Havey said “Your students are not like you.”

OK, now you’ve got my attention Harvey.  Where are you going with this?

Harvey smiled and brought up a slide that rocked my world.  Harvey stated “In study after study, research has shown that 70% of business students are ES on the Meyers Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI).  However, 70% of business school faculty are IN on the MBTI.”  (For an overview of the different type talk see the discussion of extrovert versus introvert and sensing versus intuition.)

In that short moment, twenty years of teaching communication problems with my students flashed in front of my eyes.  Our differences weren’t about age, experience, or attitude, it was mostly related to MBTI Type.  I now had what I’d been missing – a framework for how to improve my in class teaching skills.

For the next two days, Harvey offered tip after tip about how INs can communicate better with ESs.  As an example, he mentioned that ESs really hate complex diagrams.  They want to see things in diagrams that are small chunks.  Over the course of a semester, they want to see the diagram filled in a chunk at a time.  INs love complexity.  The more a diagram is rich and complex, the more the INs love them.  The key insight is that if I taught in my own style (IN), I would be losing 70% of the audience.  The following two images show the before and after of part of my course outlines for an introductory graduate course in human centered design.

BEFORE

AFTER

The advice that pushed me over the edge to acceptance was Harvey sharing that INs will actually love the new style, as they will build the complex diagram for themselves during the course of the quarter.  By building it themselves, they will learn more and be excited to share their complex creation.

Could it really be that easy?

After the seminar, I had to scramble to put as many of Harvey’s insights into my syllabus and lectures for the fall class.  During this process it occurred to me that I might be able to take this a step farther and form the class project teams based on the MBTI type. Because a quarter is so short (only ten class sessions) and because there is so much material to cover, in past classes I did not want to deal with team collaboration problems.  So I tried to get around the problem by having the students form teams by themselves, hopefully with students they’ve worked with in the past.  Now I wondered if I would be better off by assigning the teams myself based on several pieces of demographic data starting with the MBTI.

At our first class meeting, I found that for 28 of the 29 students, this was their first class in the HCDE Professional Masters Program.  So none of the students knew each other. Further, for seven of the students they had just arrived in Seattle the week before and were new to the United States with English as a second language.  Now I knew that I had to be proactive in forming the teams.

I asked each student to give me the following demographic information:

  • MBTI Type (ES or IN)
  • Social Style Model (Driver, Analytic, Amiable or Expressive)
  • Undergraduate Degree discipline
  • Number of years working after undergraduate degree
  • Role they worked in professionally

Armed with the above information, I then formed teams of four making sure that each team had at least one person with the following characteristics:

  • Driver Social Style
  • Analytic Social Style
  • IN MBTI Type
  • ES MBTI Type
  • Experience in a design related discipline (architect, interior design, art director …)
  • Experience in technology (software engineer, IT specialist)
  • Greater than 5 years of work experience
  • New to the U.S. student (incorporate cultural differences into the designs)

The results of team formation were almost immediately obvious – both in terms of team energy and in terms of team performance.  Over the course of the quarter I received several positive comments about how well the assigned teams worked out:

“I have to say, this is a fantastic team – we are working together like we’ve known each other for years! I wish you could come to my work and pick a team for me there too!”

“You did a good job with putting the groups together. I was somewhat skeptical initially about the Myers-Briggs pairings but the results speak volumes. I’d say keep on that track.”

One of the sayings I live by is “communication is the results that you get, not the words that you speak.”  Based on the quality of the deliverables from the teams throughout the quarter this method of team formation works.  Since finishing the course, I’ve talked to several experienced organizational development consultants who confirmed that they use MBTI typing to form the working teams when they engage with a client.

Another variant of a personality indicator is the Keirsey Temperament Sorter.  In his book Please Understand Me, David Keirsey provides a wonderful ode to paying attention to the different ways we communicate and behave:

Keirsey Preamble to Personality Typing 

If I do not want what you want, please try not to tell me that my want is wrong. 

Or if I believe other than you, at least pause before you correct my view. 

 Or if my emotion is less than yours, or more, given the same circumstances, try not to ask me to feel more strongly or weakly. 

 Or yet if I act, or fail to act, in the manner of your design for action, let me be. 

I do not, for the moment at least, ask you to understand me. That will come only when you are willing to give up changing me into a copy of you. 

I may be your spouse, your parent, your offspring, your friend, or your colleague. If you will allow me any of my own wants, or emotions, or beliefs, or actions, then you open yourself, so that some day these ways of mine might not seem so wrong, and might finally appear to you as right—for me. To put up with me is the first step to understanding me. Not that you embrace my ways as right for you, but that you are no longer irritated or disappointed with me for my seeing waywardness. And in understanding me you might come to prize my differences from you, and, far from seeking to change me, preserve and even nurture those differences.

This entry was posted in Quotes, Teaching, University, User Experience, Working in teams, WUKID. Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Meyers Briggs and Project Team Formation

  1. Kathy says:

    Skip-one of the most important lessons I learned about getting along with people was getting to know the personality types. A Christian author-a woman whose name I can’t recall right now called them choleric, phlegmatic, sanguine–and melancholy. Your analysis goes into quite a bit of detail, but it helped me understand myself. I am mostly melancholy and choleric..meaning I like things to be predictable, organized and I like people to do things my way. I learned I had to back off the choleric part as people just don’t like to deal with someone who thinks they know it all. And I have had to learn that people who are sanguine–are not lazy–they just have a different view of life. However if I was “stuck” working with this type of person it really would drive me crazy and basically make me just want to work alone to get the work done like I think it should be done. The key of course is to utilize the strengths of each personality and find a way to deal with the weaknesses.

  2. Pingback: Learning and the Internet – Cathy Davidson | On the Way to Somewhere Else

  3. Patti says:

    Ah, but if you had used this team formation method Wnter 2011 quarter, would Denise, Carl, and I have ended up together? : )
    Fascinating stuff. . .

  4. swaltersky says:

    Probably not. I doubt any of the teams would have been the same. Either way though I would still have had the pleasure of meeting each of you.

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