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Why personality tests might not work for your team

Neutral Vibes // Social Squares

I have experienced personality assessments from both ends: as a participant as a DISC qualified trainer. But do they work? And how can you get the most out of them? Here, I’ve put together an overview of the most popular tests and what you must keep in mind when using them. 

What is personality testing in the workplace? 

Companies consist of people with different personalities. That can lead to tension in the workplace and impact the quality of the work. A business wants to use its employees’ talents and skills and create a positive work environment in which they can thrive. Both become easier if you have an insight into their personalities. That’s where assessments come in.

These tests consist of a series of statements. The participant has to choose which one describes them accurately. The assessment then measures skills, talents and thinking patterns. It categorises them according to a certain number of themes. They form the basis of the personality report about that person. 

Why are they so popular? 

  • Personality tests can offer an unbiased view of your character and strengths. That can make it easier for decision-makers to match the right people in a team. 
  • It can also help to see specific behaviour as part of your personality, not as an attack on the other person. If you’re a type-A personality, the laid-back approach of a working colleague might annoy you. Still, you know their behaviour is not about you; it’s simply a clash of personalities. 
  • Knowing how each employee ticks makes it easier for managers to pick the right people for a task in a fast-paced work environment. 
  • It can help avoid conflict at work. For example, people with a similar outlook on life and work will find it easier to share an office. 

The most common personality tests

The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) was developed in the 1940s and remains one of the most popular tests. It’s based on a theory by Carl Jung and talks about four dominant psychological functions: sensation, intuition, feeling, and thinking. Jung’s theory suggests that these four functions play an essential role in how we approach solving problems and interact with others. The test consists of 90 questions and puts you in one of 16 categories. 

Clifton Strengths (formerly Strengthfinder) is another popular personality assessment. It was developed by American psychologist Don Clifton and consists of 177 questions and 34 so-called “Clifton Strength themes”. It is based on Positive Psychology- the idea is to focus on people’s strengths rather than their weaknesses. 

In 1928, physiological psychologist William Moulton Marston came up with The DISC model. Marston decided to focus only on things that were objectively observable and measurable. He categorised people’s behaviour into four primary types. The current DISC model is still based on these but developed as we gained more insights into behavioural psychology. 

The Caliper Profile measures a person’s personality characteristics against specific job models. The Caliper Profile aims to predict how well a person will perform on the chosen job. Dr Greenberg, the test developer, originally created it for an insurance company to predict success in sales agents. One of his primary goals was to make it more difficult to fake results, a problem he saw with other assessments. 

(H2) What are the advantages of personality tests? 

For yourself

We all have blind spots when it comes to others and ourselves. Our brain constantly tries to make sense of the world, and it does that by relying on past experiences from childhood. As a result, two people might interpret the same behaviour differently. Don from IT is always grumpy? Anne had an uncle like that and loved him, so she finds his grouchiness charming, while William is reminded of his teenage son and is annoyed. Personality tests can make you realise your own perceptions and how they can influence your relationships with colleagues. If you take this information into account, you can avoid personality clashes, and working together becomes more enjoyable. 

For teams and managers

  • Sometimes it’s hard to define people’s working styles or preferences. Personality tests can help describe someone accurately and without judgment. 
  • It’s also tricky to get peer feedback, especially around review periods. Your view of someone might be influenced by this weeks’ performance or a particular project and not show the bigger picture. Having a clear outline and the same questions for everyone can circumvent that. 
  • Often, a manager has to put teams together quite quickly and needs to know if they will work well together. The information gained from personality tests makes it easier to connect the right people with each other. Even more, it helps them to get to know each other quickly and avoid pitfalls. 

For the organisation 

Personality tests can support inclusion because it takes out the judgement that often comes up in a conversation. Everyone gets different responses that might sometimes be eye-opening. These results can lead colleagues to have an open discussion and positive changes that last longer than the next project. 

What to watch out for 

Although personality assessments are widely used, there is growing criticism on how they are applied. Often, the personality descriptions are so vague they ring true to anyone. Still, many users feel they describe their character exactly- a phenomenon also known as the Barnum effect. 

Descriptions like “you are loyal to people loyal to you” are accurate for most people, but they don’t help you progress. That’s why it’s so important to choose a reliable, widely accepted personality test. Here are a few things to keep in mind: 

Don’t focus solely on the data 

There won’t be progress if you just do the tests without the facilitated discussion. The results are just the first step, not the ultimate solution to a lingering problem. It’s essential to make adjustments based on the results to achieve lasting change. That can include looking at team combinations or changing someone’s job description. As always in life, there is no quick solution. Positive change is a marathon, not a sprint. 

Don’t accept the results as facts

There is a lot of discussion about the validity of personality tests, and such criticism shouldn’t be dismissed. People are complex and change, and an assessment can only reflect a certain amount of that. No one should be labelled because they are a particular type in a personality test. That stunts growth- the opposite of what you want to achieve with such an assessment. 

If you want to get more out of your teams’ personality assessments, check out my workshops, where I offer group coaching and DISC profiling. 

Why personality tests might not work for your team - Just Jaz
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