Unfortunately, assigning a group of high-performing individuals to work together does not instantly transform them into a high-performing team. Communication is the key to making a team more than the sum of its parts, yet managers often complain that their team members fail to communicate effectively, both with each other and the team leader. This breakdown weakens team morale, but more importantly, it reduces the team’s quality and efficiency, meaning more missed targets and more late nights at the office. Here’s a tip: use the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) to improve communication rapidly in any team.
The key to improving team communication is understanding that the root cause of weak communication is trust. Yes, trust: that fuzzy, fluffy, feel-good word that every manager loves to take time away from work to discuss. Managers, even high-performing managers, often find discussing “trust” at the office so wasteful of their time that no single word will more quickly provoke them to reach for their smartphones to check their email. This reaction is understandable given many managers’ early experiences with “trust exercises” often begin with trust falls and end with singing songs around a campfire, two activities that have little impact on team performance. As a pragmatist with no patience for anything that does not clearly add value to my work, my team, and my business, I share much in common with these skeptics.
The key to separating fact from fluff is to understand that trust is psychological, and the psychological condition of your team is undeniably linked to your team’s performance, much like any athlete recognizes that the mental game is just as important as the physical one. At its core, trust concerns the psychological insecurities people feel when they are vulnerable in front of others. No one likes worrying that their flaws are public and judged by others, so instead of questions, seeking advice, making suggestions (which may be rejected), or admitting to not knowing something, members of a new team often say very little and focus on self-preservation. These inhibitions, born of mistrust, limit the team’s performance.
Teams can gradually build trust as they spend time together, but rarely will you as a manager have the time to wait for trust to build naturally. You will need to assemble teams quickly in high-pressure environments, and you need to build a high-performance team rapidly. The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) assessment can help shortcut this process. For those unfamiliar with the tool, the MBTI is a personality assessment that assigns an individual to one of sixteen classifications based on a self-administered questionnaire (which can be taken in as little as 20 minutes online). The questions are designed to assess an individual’s preferences in four areas: gathering energy (i.e. extroversion vs. introversion), interpreting information, forming judgments, and making decisions. The result is a four-letter combination, such as “ENTJ.” The MBTI is so well-known that most professionals are familiar with it, making it easier to introduce it to your teams.
To use the MBTI to accelerate trust-building in your teams, start by having your team members take the MBTI assessment. When they finish, they will obtain their four-letter “type,” and this type is generally accompanied by a one-page summary elaborating on what the personality type means. It is very rare for a person who reads his or her summary not to find the summary both accurate and rather fascinating, since the summaries do an excellent job bringing a sharp articulation to the nebulous psychological concepts that the MBTI is designed to assess. But taking the test is the easy part; once everyone has their summaries, assemble the team in a room and have each person read his or her summary out loud to the group. The result is that each person gets to learn about how every other team member thinks in a nonjudgmental, concrete, and most importantly–efficient–way.
If it sounds like an awkward exercise, it is–but not much, and only at first. The sixteen personality types identified by the MBTI carry no “good” or “bad” qualities, and there are plenty of lists online with examples of outstanding celebrities and historical figures from each type. But when team members share their type summaries, you will watch as members who know the speaker nod and support aspects of the summary they have seen in the person. The experience ends up being fun for team members, particularly as they see others with similar qualities. Most importantly, team members share some of their vulnerabilities and see the vulnerabilities in others, which allows them to quickly gain insight into how others think and orient themselves, psychologically speaking. In other words, they get to “understand” each other other better than before. While the time investment requires is minimal, the acceleration in trust after such an experience is fantastic.
Try using the MBTI in your teams and see how quickly it can break down the psychological barriers that limit team’s communication. And please, save the trust falls for YouTube.