How to recognize the good and the bad of team diversity

, ,

Ryan and Ryan P found this great test by JT O’Donnell to find out personality type. Of course, we have each taken tons of personality tests, but what I really liked about JT’s test is that it was only twenty questions, and it revealed each of the three of us perfectly.

The test immediately explained why Ryan P is writing posts about how crazy it is to work with me, and I’m writing posts like the one about a rash on his upper thigh. Because really the test lays bare each of our very different ways of operating: Ryan P is an empathizer, I am an energizer and Ryan is a commander. Basically, Ryan P and I are sick of Ryan being a dictator, and now I know why. And Ryan is sick of Ryan P doing nothing, and now I see why – because a commander would never even notice the work of an empathizer.

Also, I have meetings with each of them every day trying to help everyone to get along, and now I know why: I am someone who is always optimistic and I want everyone else to be happy too. Great for blogging, difficult for corralling two ornery twentysomethings who keep calling their parents to get a second opinion on what I say.

When I was in grad school, let me just say right now that I never read a complete book for any class, but that didn’t stop me from having some favorites. And one of them was Between Men: English Literature and Male Homosexual Desire. I read this book for a course about.. um. I can’t actually remember. But each week in this course we watched a Hitchcock movie and then talked about deconstructionism and homosexuality.

So, anyway, this book I loved was about how in the history of English literature, men related to each other through women. Even if the men were not gay, they were often mediated by a woman. I remember thinking to myself that this is such a lame way to function and that only lame women would put up with this position in life. But look, here I am. And actually, it does not feel lame so much as useful.

I can see that I have had this position at work a lot. Men who are getting along at work can talk about football and go to strip clubs together. But men who are not getting along at work do well to put a woman in between them. Women seem to be natural mediators.

Right now is the time when people will start gearing up to write a comment to me about how gender is complicated, and the lines are not so clearly drawn anymore, and I am peddling stereotypes. This might all be true, but I get the temerity to talk about gender lines from danah boyd, a fellow at the Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard, and my hero when it comes to philosophizing about identity. She found that in the blogosphere, in general, men link to men and women link to women. This is because gender stereotypes are generally right, and men and women are very different.

Okay. So back to my idea that I am the mediator. I don’t mind, because I’m good at it. And I don’t mind that Ryan P doesn’t churn out work really quickly, because he does a lot of things that Ryan and I are not great at, like having the patience to meet with people day after day for long and languishing lunches.

Each of us has strengths. But let’s talk a minute about weaknesses. We each have weaknesses, too. So why don’t we stop trying to work with them? Why not admit the stuff we are not great at and move on? I think a lot of people take a test like JT’s and then ignore the fact that the test reveals what we should NOT be doing as much as what we should be doing.

For example, I should not be making labored decisions where I gather tons of information. I’m not like that. I make fast, gut-level decisions. This is why I was terrible as an account manager in an ad agency: I had to justify every decision to my client and I kept thinking, “Whatever. It’s just my instinct. Please just shut up and trust me.”

You need to recognize what you are not great at, and stop doing it. It will help the people around you to get more work done, and it will help you to perform more like a star.

And for now, I have stopped asking Ryan to have empathy for anyone. And I have stopped asking Ryan P to analyze business models. The act of letting someone work in the area they are strong is such a gift, and of course I want to give that – I’m an energizer.

39 replies
  1. Chris Yeh
    Chris Yeh says:

    Lo and behold, it turns out that I am an Energizer as well. Perhaps that’s why we get along so well.

    I couldn’t agree more that the key to success is playing to one’s strengths, rather than expecting to overcome weaknesses. I’m a big fan of Marcus Buckingham’s work in this area, which is truly groundbreaking.

    In “First, Break All The Rules” and “Now, Discover Your Strengths,” Buckingham uses decades of Gallup research to show that successful managers and top performers understand that people are different, and that the key to success is fitting a person’s role to his or her particular strengths.

    The metaphor he uses is “casting,” an intuitive stroke of genius. All one has to do is imagine two respected, Oscar-winning actors (say Tom Hanks and Russell Crowe), and then exchanging their signature roles. Can you imagine Crowe in “Big”? How about Hanks in “Gladiator”?

    So why try to cast the Tom Hanks of your office in the role of Maximus?

  2. Melanie
    Melanie says:

    One thing my marketing professor always said was “do what you do best and then go out and hire the rest”. I completely agree with being true to yourself and your strengths and then be smart enough to let others work on the things that you are not the best at.

    I also took the test and had my coworker do it too and we found that we were both Energizers, which explains why we get along so well. Thanks Ryans!

  3. BrandonA
    BrandonA says:

    Interesting Ideas!

    I think this test and the results would make a great quick ice breaker for new teams and groups before attacking a task. My only fear is after someone takes this test they may feel pigeon holed into that role. I personally love to test my weaknesses throwing myself into a situation I am awful, in turn at improving my skills and perspective. I would rather than avoid my weakness confront them and defeat them.

    I think these tests need to be taken to heart carefully and when applying it to your personal or professional life one needs to weight the needs of the team and the needs of your own professional development.

  4. Jeremy
    Jeremy says:

    >”You need to recognize what you are not great at, and stop doing it. It will help the people around you to get more work done, and it will help you to perform more like a star.”

    This is what I was trying to say in my second point yesterday — that it’s better to play to your strengths than to try to change your personality. But you disagreed with that. Maybe it’s different, or maybe I just misunderstood the context.

    * * * * * * *

    Hey Jeremy. You bring up an interesting point about how similar these two posts are, in some ways. I think the difference is that people who have a decent handle on social skills can adjust a bit to accommodate other people. If you don’t have a decent handle on social skills there is no understanding what adjustments need to be made. I find that Ryan and Ryan P and I are constantly adjusting ourselves to get along better with eachother. This is nearly impossible to do if you have Asperger’s.


  5. Joan Woodbrey
    Joan Woodbrey says:

    I’m an Enegizer too!!

    I couldn’t agree more with focusing on ones strengths. I think it was John Maxwell who said, that he was an awful basketball player and no matter how much he practiced or loved the game he was never going to be an NBA player. His point was if you focus on something you are weak in you may become good but if you focus on what you are good at you can become great!

    When we put teams of people together we become stronger because we all focus on our strengths. Teamwork makes the dream work! ha ha, I’m sorry I had to say it. Soooo cheesy, but true!

  6. Caitlin
    Caitlin says:

    I am an Energiser according this test. The description seems to more or less fit.

    Anyway, on the point of team diversity and following up on the previous post about social skills. I think you have written before on how diversity is good for the workplace … does your definition of diversity include people with poor social skills? Not saying it should but just wondering where you draw the line between saying diversity of personality types is good but people with poor social skills need to change.

    And following up from the previous point as well, I’d like to add that not everyone with poor social skills has a high IQ. Sometimes people have poor social skills and are also pretty stupid.

    * * * * * * *

    Great question, Caitlin. Yeah, I do think it’s part of diversity. I think that poor social skills and Asperger’s are not actually the same — it’s a continuum. I spent a lot of my career in the marketing department of software companies, and I felt there was a lot of diversity in terms of social skills.


  7. Jen
    Jen says:

    As an Energizer who is employed as a (housewife) and married to a Comtemplator the results of this test absolutely shed a bright light on our vast personality differences.

    We are literally like night and day with our response to most of life situations. Our sweet daughter who has an super expressive mom and cool as ice dad hopefully won’t turn out to be a psychopathic adult.

  8. Katie
    Katie says:

    I am an energizer, I get super excited about things at the beginning but need some patience to see it through. I am currently trying to apply for a job where I would be in a manager like position. I wonder if I would succeed in a position where I would be a liaison for a lot of commanders?

  9. Caitlin
    Caitlin says:

    Jeremy: We should absolutely take this tests with a grain of salt but I don’t think that being an Empathiser, Contemplater, Commander or Energiser has anything to do with poor social skills. I think that one can fall into any one of those categories as described and have good or bad social skills.

    I agree with you that people should play to their strengths but I also agree with Penelope that success at work comes from a blend of hard and soft skills and you need to develop the interpersonal skills to succeed. This might be more or less true depending on your job but it’s still true.

    Prolific Programmer: I use Firefox (on a Mac) and the test worked fine for me.

  10. Susan
    Susan says:

    “I think it's a big mistake to think that whatever our strengths and weaknesses are there is a place for us in this world. It just isn't true.”

    Penelope, this is from your response to a comment on yesterday’s post. Yes, these two posts are connected. I appreciate the point you were making in these posts, and in your follow-up comments yesterday. But I would offer a counter-assertion: I think that we need all kinds of people. Each one of us can help see to it that there is a place for all kinds of people in this world.

    I’ve been reading Mel Levine lately–he has written interesting stuff on understanding our individual strengths and weaknesses. I wonder if you, Penelope, or others here have read his work.

  11. Alice Bachini-Smith
    Alice Bachini-Smith says:

    I love this post, especially where you say:

    “Why not admit the stuff we are not great at and move on?”

    Once you have enough basic skills (including social skills, as in your last post), this seems both more profitable and more enjoyable. It’s in the positive psychology literature too, I think.

  12. J.T.
    J.T. says:

    Hello all,

    I just wanted to say ‘thank you’ for taking the test and posting your comments.

    I use this test regularly with corporate and individual clients, but I never get tired of seeing how people interpret the experience. Everyone’s comments are very insightful. I love the dialog this tool generates and the heightened awareness it brings in the workplace.

    I can’t begin to write like Penelope, so I’m also grateful to her for putting together such an interesting blog relating to its use. Thanks again and please let me know if I can provide any follow up info on Interaction Styles to readers…

  13. Marcia Robinson
    Marcia Robinson says:

    Commander checking in!

    Love the test and will share with others. Always disliked questions like #17 which forces you to choose “logic” or “heart”. Maybe I am one of those strange folks, and I think there are many of us out there BTW, who really go for that left brain, right brain balance.

    How could we not in today’s world? Neither “logic” nor “heart” is appropriate at all times and I think people are tending to be more multidisciplined than before.

    Then again what use would the tool be if we didn’t have these forced choices. I like it. Quick, easy and less than complex.


  14. Tiffany
    Tiffany says:

    My company has a similar assessment. Both tell me I’m an energizer, too, but ours diagnoses some crossover, so I have a lot of emphathizer as well. It’s interesting what you say about men and women. I work with mostly women, and our boss is a guy, so I’m thinking about how things work between all of us. And, on the other side, how it is for him.

    Another really great thing we’ve done companywide – that’s sort of along the lines of personality but more on the leadership end – is Ken Blanchard’s situational leadership training. That really works well for us. It gives different developmental levels for people on tasks and projects, and it also gives different leadership levels managers act at. Because you can see as a manger where you prefer to act (I want to delegate, I want to be in the details, I want to be hands off) but also it encourages flexing your style to where people are on a certain task or project. And I think that’s important, as a leader, to be able to give your team what they need, despite how you prefer to be. But that works best in situations where the roles of leadership are well defined. And I guess those lines aren’t always defined in a lot of places, and that’s where things rely very heavily on personality types. Hm… Now my wheels are turning.

  15. kristi
    kristi says:

    The first time I took this test, I answered the questions without thinking about the context of whether the situation was at home or at work and the result was Empathizer. When I looked at the results, it didn’t really sound like me “at work”.
    So I took it a second time and focused on answering the questions as if I was at work, and the results came back as Energizer.
    When I put the two results together, it seemed to fit my personality as well as how I behave in given situations at work, whereas each one alone seemed to be leaving something out or added something in that didn’t apply.

  16. LaDawn
    LaDawn says:

    There is a great book called “Now, Discover Your Strengths How to Develop Your Talents and Those of the People You Manage@ by Marcus Buckingham and Donald O Clifton.

    The premise is not to put you into broad categories but to identify specific strengths of individual. I highly recommend this approach as I dislike generalisations.

  17. Caitlin
    Caitlin says:

    Marcie wrote: “Maybe I am one of those strange folks, and I think there are many of us out there BTW, who really go for that left brain, right brain balance.”

    Oh me too! Every time I do one of those right brain / left brain tests I find it so hard to choose between the logical answer and what I can see as an equally valid answer but not based on logic. I usually test as highly left brain and logical but it’s not a true reflection.

  18. peter vajda
    peter vajda says:

    In my experience, and perhaps as a contrarian to conventional wisdom, I have found that focusing on one’s strengths makes them solid where they are, and that’s it; focusing on weaknesses allows one to grow, on many levels, and both learn and forward the action of their life. But, that’s just me.

  19. Dale
    Dale says:

    Sure playing to one’s strengths is more likely to lead to success, but where’s the fun in just doing that? Life is meant to be experienced in all it’s facets; from a position of strength but also from a position of weakness. The experience of being weak in a certain area of activity yet still engaging in that activity is disconcerting, and can be downright nerveracking, but the knowledge of self gained is invaluable and can make us better human beings. Acceptance of failure, weakness, insecurity, ugliness, etc can only stem from understanding it and it’s role in our personal lives. So, at work, go with your strengths, but in the other areas of your lifes, explore your weaknesses we’ll all be better off for it:)

  20. name
    name says:

    Blah. I don’t think the categories are all that useful. I came up an energizer and am probably a cross between that and the commander, but I don’t see that as an accurate reflection of who I am.

    Energizer has the same feel of fit as my daily horoscope.

    Best to try out a bunch of “tests” and maybe some validated ones to get a real feel for what your strengths are. Maybe the best is still the MBTI.

  21. Norcross
    Norcross says:

    I was the Commander, which struck me as strange, until I actually READ the description, which fit me to a T. My wife is taking it as we speak, and it’ll be interesting to see how it plays out.

  22. Beth
    Beth says:

    Very interesting, Penelope. I like that it’s more general than the typical MBTI-esque assessment. Thanks for sharing this. I wonder what the implications are of all your readers, self included, being assessed as energizers?!

  23. Carol
    Carol says:

    BrandonA – liked the article you posted.

    I thought the test was way too vague. I’m supposedly an energizer, but could see aspects of myself in all the others, especially contemplater, which is supposed to be thre complete oppposite.

    So yes, play to your strengths and compensate for your weaknesses, but without relying on such a simplistic test as this one.

  24. GreatManagement
    GreatManagement says:

    Well I’m a Commander, so stand by your beds and listen :))

    I am a huge advocate of using individuals strengths and I love Marcus Buckinghams work / books. I recommend to all my staff and coaching clients to start with his work to find out their strengths. I shall add this test as a compliment as well. Thanks.

  25. Karen
    Karen says:

    I took the test three different times (sometimes having 4+ email addys for work and play can be useful!) and came up with three different answers each time. Was trying to “hack” the test and figure out which question(s) equaled which personality description. My first result was Commander, second Energizer, and third Empathizer. I suppose I’m a mix of all three, but probably more skewed toward the first two. (“Do what I say, but feel good about it.” probably sums up my schizoid mixture of work personalities as defined by this test!) My favorite career-related books are Barbara Sher’s “Refuse to Choose” and Marci Alboher’s “One Person/Multiple Careers” because after years of grappling with conformity, it’s obvious I’m never going to be satisfied with a singletrack career path.

  26. J.T.
    J.T. says:

    RE: MBTI

    It’s actually from my own experiences with MBTI that I’ve embraced using more simplistic tests in my consulting practice – the ISAT being one of several. Although MBTI is more comprehensive and proven through studies, I’ve found its strength can be its weakness. Rarely, have I met an individual, let alone a team, who are adept enough to contemplate and leverage all the elements of their MBTI results. Not to mention, go on to understand it well enough to assess those they work with so they can leverage the tool on a daily basis.

    Agile tools like this one have helped me give individuals and teams an immediate ability to apply what they’ve learned. I don’t deny, there is certainly a trade off in using a more simplistic tool – as many posts mention above. But, if you take the test for what it’s worth, I find the ROI ten fold to a more intense test in terms of application.

  27. leslie
    leslie says:

    I am a commander according to the test. I don’t have any problem choosing between logic and heart now but there were times when I was really conflicted about this in a difficult work situation. I work in a collaborative field which means that all of the elements of a project are equally important so when one person is not trying very hard it results in a bad result for all members of the team.

  28. Kristen
    Kristen says:

    Interesting, but something seems familiar… These four types correspond pretty directly to the four core Kiersey/MBTI temperaments. Contemplater, empathizer, energizer, and commander = NT, NF, SP, and SJ, respectively. All the same, definitely useful to keep in mind when working with diverse personalities.

  29. Charlie
    Charlie says:

    First, to be completely nitpicky, danah’s name has no capitals in it. :)

    The one thing I don’t like about these tests though, is that they do a great job of identifying your personality but then they profess to know all sorts of things about what careers are right for you. In any given job I’ve ever known about, there were multiple types of people in it who approached them very differently and were fulfilled in very different ways. Not all accountants have the same personality and not all managers do…. not even close.

    * * * * * * *

    Oh, thanks for the danah boyd tip — and the link! I made the change.


  30. Marcia Robinson
    Marcia Robinson says:

    Love all the comments.

    Kristen wrote:
    “Not all accountants have the same personality and not all managers do – . not even close”.

    This is absolutely correct. However, although not all accountants have the same personality one will enjoy being the accountant at a ski resort more than s/he would enjoy being the accountant at a Big 4 Accounting firm or in a large insurance company in a corporate setting.

    I have seen that before for many many people. The key is balance, I think, and to look for the right “fit” regardless of what your role is.

  31. mclee
    mclee says:

    I'm an empathizer!

    Thanks for linking to this test. I found it very insightful especially when thinking of past jobs that I hated.

Comments are closed.