How personality diversity can create a more harmonious workforce
13 March 2023
13 March 2023
Diversity is a hot topic for organisations and it’s easy to see why. We know that diverse teams have higher levels of engagement, make stronger decisions, and perform better overall. A study by McKinsey found that companies in the top quartile for racial and ethnic diversity are 36% more likely to have above-average financial returns. Those with better gender diversity in management teams were 25% more likely to have above-average profitability.
But there’s an aspect of diversity that’s often overlooked: diversity of thought.
Having a team of people who have diverse mindsets, thought processes, communication styles and perspectives is just as important as other elements of diversity – but it’s often left off diversity, equity, and inclusion (DE&I) agendas altogether.
Because of our human tendency to gravitate towards the familiar, also known as affinity bias, bosses like to hire clones of themselves. Our egos tell us we’re great and to look for people who are just as fabulous as we are!
While there are some benefits to having a team of people who share the same preferences and working styles (e.g. they’re more likely to understand each other and make quicker decisions) there are drawbacks too. Research from the Myers Briggs Foundation found that teams with similar thinking patterns are more likely to make errors due to inadequate representation of all viewpoints.
From the outside, teams with diverse ways of thinking may seem disharmonious. For example, teams with diverse thought processes often take longer to make decisions and experience more conflict.
But having diversity of thought pays off in the long run.
Remember those decisions that took longer to reach? They’re actually shown to be stronger decisions because more viewpoints were represented.
Diverse teams are also thought to be better at:
So, is there a “right” mix to aim for in your team? Not exactly. The point is to aim for a balance.
Teams with only a single representative of a certain preference (e.g. a more practical leader who’s in charge of a team of thoughtful idealists) can experience frustration that people aren’t getting enough done. And vice-versa – if there are too many practical doers on a team, they may neglect the human element of a project.
It’s about understanding what everyone’s strengths and preferences are, and appreciating the different set of skills they bring to the team.
When it comes to assessing thinking and decision-making preferences, there are several tests you can take.
The three most widely used are:
Personality tests can help identify:
I recommend Myers Briggs (MBTI), which is the framework I use as part of our team workshops. I find it has an individual element that helps people understand themselves, while also helping them better understand their teammates. It also has some practical ways to use the results to improve team dynamics and conflict resolution.
Regardless of which personality assessment you choose, all provide additional insights and a greater understanding of your people.
It’s important to recognise that these personality assessments identify preferences – how those preferences present will vary depending on our past experiences, our skills and capabilities, and the context of the situation. Just because someone is one personality type, it doesn’t mean they can’t exhibit other personality types too.
For example, you could prefer introversion, but still shows signs of extraversion at times. People who are the same type can be quite different, so try not to think of people as a category – you might be limiting their potential.
It’s worth noting that preferences can change over time. The accumulation of experience, changes in our life and more insight into ourselves mean we grow as people, and so our preferences can change.
Once you have identified each person’s preferences, it’s useful to map your workplace to analyse it from a more holistic perspective. I have a large MBTI diagram I use with clients where we plot the team’s personality types. This helps understand where your people are and how balanced your team is in terms of diversity.
What if you have many of the same personality type? Should you start hiring to balance things out?
It’s important to note that many personality assessments, including MBTI, can’t ethically be used for recruitment because they don’t identify skills or capabilities. For example, just because someone prefers to use data to make decisions, doesn’t mean they’re good at analysing data. But keep the mix you have in the back of your mind so that when it comes to changing up teams or recruiting new people, you’re aiming for more diversity of thought.
As well as looking from a holistic workplace perspective, you can also use it to plan smaller projects. If you can see that a particular team prefers getting down into the weeds and the practicalities of things, you may invite people from other areas who have an interest in strategic thinking to contribute on projects. Introducing this diversity of thinking could foster innovative ideas or new opportunities. On the other hand, adding some pragmatic thinkers to a team of idealists and big picture thinkers can help avoid fantastic ideas that are too impractical or difficult to achieve.
Understanding personality types is not about boxing people in a certain category. It’s about gaining a greater understanding of ourselves and the people we work with – how we’re the same, how we might be different, and why people do the things they do. This understanding can create a more harmonious environment – one of clear communication, better collaboration and mutual respect.
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