Personality theory and team dynamics

A rationale on why some teams in our MDes class work better than others using the MBTI personality test.

I have found myself along the years gobbling up any theory I could find that would give architecture to human behaviour: MBTI, horoscopes, Raiki, CBT therapy… And MBTI took over a good few years of study, to the point I still unconsciously use it today. The MBTI personality test specifically has it’s roots in Jung (who learned under Freud, but we will overlook that sexist mishap) and it creates a framework around not what I would personally call “personality” but rather “mental structures”. It uses letters and four levels of cognition with two options on each: Introverted vs Extroverted, Sensing vs Intuitive, Feeling vs Thinking, Judging vs Perceiving.

Disclaimer: this test has no roots in any scientific proof. It is widely used within HR teams in the United States and some companies have smartly monetised it in websites such as this one, however no therapist will hopefully use or promote it.

Personality vs mental structure — a personal argument

A simple difference: personality changes, mental structures evolve.
Example: I used to love a 90s band called “Sugarcult”, I went to their concerts, waited for hours for the best seats. This is no longer a set of music I would actively listen to. My personality has changed, from teenage pop rock to much more elevated and elegant musical choices. I am also much more humble.

On the other hand, mental structures are set ways of looking at the world. They are based on our most basic experiences as children, on family dynamics, on genetics. They do not change so much as develop, smooth or harden based on life experiences.
Example: My interest on human behaviour is not new. I remember myself as a small child staring at people’s interactions on the street in awe. I loved people watching, which made me a very creepy child. Thankfully I was quite cute.

Mental structures are a complex construction you build upon, personality is a Jenga game.

The MBTI passes itself as a personality test, but it’s real value in its creation of mental structures and it is particularly interesting within team work. This reflection could last a whole book, so I will concentrate on specific traits related to team dynamics, specifically around decision making and information gathering.

Functions functions functions

A quick summary:

  • F. “Feeling” function vs T. “Thinking” function.
  • J “Judging” function vs P “Perceiving” function.

FP — These types based their decisions on emotional thought processes and are constantly looking for new information.

FJ — These types based their decisions on emotional thought processes but they are conclusion driven.

TP — These types base their decision on logical thinking and are constantly looking for new information.

TJ — These types base their decision on logical thinking but are conclusion driven.

F characters would typically want to base the project around their personal values and goals, whilst T characters might think about efficiency, topics related to the task at hand. This will create incredible friction amongst F characters, who hold their beliefs close to their personal identity, whilst T characters would potentially consider this selfish and inefficient.

Ideally in every team there would be both information gatherers and conclusion makers, however these types would typically clash. The J types will want to do the task as quickly as possible, aiming for their need to conclude. The P characters would want to debate, brainstorm, chat, diverge into other topics. This is the most typical example of team clashing.

If you start to combine these interactions, the plot thickens.

If you have two Js, such as a TJs and FJs they are most likely to be an efficient team but they will suffer on originality without the drive of innovation of the P function. The two Ps (FPs and TPs) are usually excellent matches, they bounce ideas off each other and drive fantastic and interesting discussions, however they will struggle on a set plan of action and typically will procrastinate till the last minute.

If you match two Fs (FPs and FJs) you will find a deeply thought out and personal project result. That is, if their morals match. If not, you might find the team struggles to function at all. If you match two Ts (TJs and TPs) you will have the most perfectly researched project, yet lacking in personal reflection and drive.

Next steps & conclusion

The MBTI personality test can be a very interesting framework of mental structures (not personalities). It was extremely rewarding going back to it, researching and brushing up my knowledge about it to apply it to a potential career prospect.

It would be interesting to develop further and test these team theories within a working environment, trying to achieve the “sweet spot” of team dynamics.

Service Design, Business Design, Organisational Design. They/them