Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Using pop psychology for team building

Diversity is a strength - especially in management teams - but it can also lead to tension, misunderstandings and all the challenges that can appear when two people are very different and don't "get" each other.

Years ago it was popular to hire expensive consultants - often called coaches - to work with executive teams and help them form tight bonds and appreciate one another but having been put through that type of coaching several times in my career at different companies I am now a great believer in the home grown use of personality based team building to develop an appreciation of the differences.

The method I advocate is going through Myers-Briggs Type testing as a team and sharing and talking about the results.

First step is everyone takes the test - online and together in a room - you can take the test here.

Next I explain (in lay terms) what the Myers-Briggs Type Indicators are - what they mean and what they indicate about each personality and how it influences and decision making. I'll walk through the 4 dimensions and I use simple anecdotes to explain the differences - as I show here. (Each is a scale where you get a percentage along the scale to one end or the other as a measure of your personality type along that dimension.)

Note a healthy dose of humor and self depreciation at this stage breaks the ice and gets the team to relax.

E-------------x------------I
Extroverted vs. Introverted: what energizes you - being with people or being alone? To make a decision do you go and talk to other people or go for a walk? Are parties exciting or a bit of a chore?

S-------------x------------N
Sensing vs. Intuiting: Do you gather data and then make a decision - or do you intuitively make a decision and then use data to validate or invalidate your decision?

T-------------x------------F
Thinking vs. Feeling: Do you decide with your head or with your heart? Where are you in your body as you work through tough decisions.

J-------------x------------P
Judging vs Perceiving: This is a desire for structure - do you make lists, organize into spreadsheets, like operational process or do you prefer being open ended? Do you take a list to the grocery store or buy as the mood takes you? Do you plan your vacation down to the hour, or get in the car and just drive?

This is a layman's view - Wikipedia has a much better description here.

And then - it's time to share. I look for the extroverts in the team to start to talk - to share their type and talk about what it means and how it affects them in the team.

At this point I am at the white board and draw the chart (below) - and start putting names into the boxes so everyone can see where they fit - and how they are like, or unlike other people in the team. It's really important at this point to make sure everyone understands there is no right or wrong, no one type is any better than any other - and that the strength lies in diversity. It's much better in a team to have some P some J, some E some I , some N and some S. If you can leverage each other you can quite simply make better decisions because you can cover each others blind spots and biases.

I ran this process with our whole US team a month ago - and then our India management team last week. It was great fun both times. Lots of laughter (led by the Es) and some very insightful discussions about where the tension comes from. For example - a strong J can really annoy a strong P. J's often state opinion as fact - they are putting structure on the opinion and testing the idea - but for a P this can seem arrogant and over constraining.

So how did my team come out? As you can see from this diagram we have a strong collection of leaders in the ENJ - they are extroverted, very intuitive and operational. Surprisingly this is not at all representative of the population at large. 63% of FR management are NJ, and yet only 7.8% of the population are NJ. So we have a very unusual concentration - and I think this is characteristic of the type of people who enjoy high growth, hurly burly opportunities where they can make decisions fast, based on intuition, and operationalize the execution.

If you are my competitor and you are reading this you may be able to figure out our inherent blind spot... except that I am not an NJ. My personality type is ESFJ. Very strong E (I like people a lot) and am a slight S, but I will challenge intuition by talking with customers and prospects. Knowing I am an ESFJ you can probably understand why I like to talk to customers every single day. That's both where my energy comes from, and how I gather the input to steer the ship.


The end result of this exercise was very positive, especially within the executive team. We talked through some of the times when we don't work as well together, and what triggers it - and it is personality related. Just reflecting together and reviewing tough conversations has now been very powerful to defuse the tension the next time it happened. I have the M-B chart on the wall in the office with everyone's name on it and any of us can refer to it an any time to help understand a team mate - and the only rule is that we all have to remember to use it with a smile - it is just pop psychology after all.


Friday, March 12, 2010

Every engineer should see this

This is perfection. Geeks rule. This video took a year, over a hundred volunteer engineers from places like NASA and JPL, and 60 takes to get it right.


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