The Myers-Briggs Test;you will still think your colleague is “ difficult”

There is a new book on the Myers-Briggs personality test used by organisations around the world ( What’s Your Type by Merve Emre). Most people are curious to know their personality type and that of their colleagues but my experience is that this knowledge will not improve team dynamics or make team meeting less fraught.

The management consultants hired to make us operate better as a team explained that teams needed diversity, different personality types could complement each other, the cautious was balanced by the adventurous, the big picture types by those who liked to focus on the detail, the creative ones by those who put the emphasis on rationality. A well balance team made up of a range of personality types was more effective , they claimed. Whilst this seemed logical it flew in the face of the experience of every one of us. In our experience different perspectives and different concerns did not result in better decisions but conflict, hours of frustration and unproductive debate.


The consultants reassured us that Myers-Briggs would help us understand how to work with rather than against personality types . There was they said no point in making a case based on values if the colleague's concern was where was the money coming from. The colleague the rest of us thought of as “difficult “ was therefore not being difficult but simply not swayed by the factors which influenced the rest of us.


We now understood their responses in team meetings   They were not being deliberately difficult it was their personality. Which we already knew. They were negative, defensive, argumentative and not a team player or a PITA (pain in the arse). 


Blair Mcpherson 


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Marcus Jenal 1 Year Ago

Hi Bair. Thanks a lot for this reflection. I think human personalities are more complex than described by these tests. They cannot be shoehorned into a box with a label. They morph and respond based on context and identity. The team shapes as much the personality as the personality shapes the team. I think continuous mindful reflections in the team about how it works and learns together rather leads to improvement of team effectiveness than putting all team members in a static picture frame of a personality type.

Diane Telford 1 Year Ago

If the only thing that comes out of personality tests is people are a tad more empathetic, then that is a good thing.  However, Myers Briggs is far from perfect. A neuroscientist writes...

Martin McDougall 1 Year Ago

Hi Blair

Thanks for your post. Sounds like your team isn't in the best of places. When you say 'The management consultants hired to make us operate better as a team ' it feels to me that that this might have been 'thrust' upon the team to 'make' you be something as a group. Consultants no matter how good, can't make people do anything they have to engage willingly. As an MBTI step 2 practitioner I look at it as a useful tool to help raise self awareness and help give people a safe language to help with communication and as Diane says has received some criticism but that doesn't invalidate it as a tool as there is always value in encouraging people to raise their levels of EQ. There could be hundreds of factors affecting the group dynamic e.g. change, leadership, culture, workload, home life to name but a few so I can't say what will bring about the results you desire however, individual and team coaching with honest feedback may help. The team will need help to let go of the past and a collective view of a positive future is worth exploring.

Patrick Lecioni's work is a useful theory when reflecting on team practice.

All the best for the future



David Laughlin 1 Year Ago

Sometimes a bit of external analysis, however limited, is good for any team (or individual!), if only for promoting a certain amount of self-reflection on behaviours. Trying to imply that well-balanced teams are always more effective - well, it depends what the team is meant to be doing. An unbalanced team does the run the risk of being labelled "difficult" by the rest of the organisation, and whilst the temptation is to pack your "Improvement" team with like-minded people, there's more of a risk that they'll struggle when facing "outsiders". 

Paul Whiffen 1 Year Ago

I recall being in a team where all of us were visionary types with one detail / completer finisher type. The latter, a chap from Germany called Detlef, was about to retire so we knew we had a problem, Myers Briggs helped us to anticipate this.

We got some advice and we got round the problem by those of us remaining taking turns at meetings to play Detlef once he had gone. When it was my turn, it took real effort not to say the things or ask the questions that i wanted to, but to think "what would Detlef say or ask here?".

It gave me an insight early in my career about different types and how they see the world in a different way.

Overall I like Myers Briggs - its not perfect but nothing is and if it at least helps us to think about different types then this is a good thing.