A functional team is not necessarily one composed of people with entirely similar personalities. Rather, to ensure a dynamic work environment, it is often considered advantageous to have a mix of different personalities.
In theory, this makes sense. In practice, it’s a bit more challenging to achieve. After all, how realistic is it to expect that you know everything about a job candidate after only one or two brief interviews? Even employees known to a company for a long time may lack insight into their own personalities. For this reason, many companies routinely ask employees and job candidates to take personality tests, with the goal of understanding how the person is best suited to perform, both independently and as part of a team.
Types of personality tests
There are an endless number of personality tests on the market today, all varying in length, complexity and focus. Some may be more useful in a particular context, such as those intended to screen health care employees versus, for example, those working in business or marketing. Certain tests are tailored toward understanding how a person handles themself on an individual level, while others may focus more on aptitude for teamwork and cultural competency.
Examples of commonly used personality tests include the legendary Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, the Occupational Interest Inventory, various situational judgement tests (vignette followed by questions eliciting the individual’s response), the Five-Factor Model of Personality, The Predictive Index, DiSC Assessment and more. Human resources experts tend to uniformly recommend using a well-known, evidence-based assessment, although they hesitate to recommend a specific test to fit all employment settings. Even situational judgment tests should have a quantitative component, as they are otherwise quite prone to bias.
Some experts also point out that it’s important to understand the goals of administering a personality test to make the results relevant. If your company isn’t sure where to start, it might be a good idea to review official personality test web sites or even consult an organizational psychologist or HR expert for help choosing the right personality test.
Tips for employees
First and foremost, it’s important to coach employees (or job candidates) to answer questions honestly. Building a team is a dynamic experience and there are no “right” or “wrong” answers, apart from anything profoundly concerning like admission of theft or abusive behavior. Rather, the process should focus on understanding the strengths each member brings to a team, as well as any areas for growth that might be complemented by working with others. For example, a particular project might have aspects that are better suited for those who enjoy working alone — such as an introvert — as well as tasks where an extrovert might excel. A manager could decide to assign team members according to strengths, or, if they have a goal of facilitating professional growth, it might be valuable to ask respective members of the team to switch roles and play to their areas of weakness.
Another pointer for employees is to not take results “personally,” so to speak. A single personality test should never be considered a representation of who someone is in entirety. Rather, it’s a non-specific litmus test that can shed light on certain traits or behavioral patterns, in a context for which they are considered relevant.
How to interpret results
When interpreting the results of a personality test, it’s important to keep in mind that a test is only as robust as its choice of questions, the experience of those interpreting the test, and the test-taker’s insight. More sophisticated personality tests may have built-in controls for honesty and consistency. This can be helpful to both employers and employees, because society often conditions people to respond how they think they should, rather than how they might respond in reality. This rings particularly true in an employment setting, where a potential- or existing employee might fear retribution if they answer “wrong.”
Sometimes the results of personality tests can be surprising to both test-takers and those interpreting the exams. In this case, it can be helpful for the employee to discuss the results with either a manager or HR staff member. Again, it’s important to reassure the individual that they are not expected to fit into a specific mold, and that the results are just part of the puzzle that is building, or strengthening, a team. The intention of having them take a personality test is to try to optimize their work experience, along with the goals of the team, and to avoid interpersonal conflicts.
Sometimes there are personalities that just don’t work well together, and this can have a considerable impact on team dynamics. Arguing, tension, and misunderstandings can all delay work. This can ideally be avoided by assessing the personalities of various team members before building a group for a project, as part of an overall determination of suitability. While this is not a comprehensive screening tool, it can be particularly useful in situations where all team members might not have a chance to meet prior to working together.
On the flip side, personality tests can also be helpful in trying to mediate existing discord amongst team members. More times than not, workplace dysfunction is the result of confusion or misunderstanding that can yield from a clash of personality styles and work ethic. If team members have a uniform way to compare how they might be able to best contribute to the team, it’s in many cases possible to restructure the team to fit everyone’s needs. Or, if nothing else, the results might help team members understand why they respond to situations differently.
A final note on test interpretation is that it’s critically important for those who are in a position of reviewing results to be adequately trained for this role. While most personality tests offer discussion of test results, the interpretation application of results in a professional setting should really be left up to those with experience in human resources or organizational psychology.
No matter which personality test, or tests, your company decides to use, the main takeaway is that any data is helpful data. Even an incomplete, or highly focused, look into the personality of team members can be beneficial in understanding how they will work best with others. In the end, it’s usually advantageous to build a team with complementary personalities rather than grouping people by skill and hoping they get along.