by Susan Gerke
I frequently lead team building sessions and workshops on teamwork. The exercise I most commonly use to help people focus on what a great team looks like is called “Best Team.” I ask participants to remember the best team experience they have ever had and note what made it stand out from other team experiences. As you can imagine, most of the items are related to the interpersonal aspects of the teamwork. If it doesn’t come up, I always add “we built on our differences.” That is how I have always characterized my best team experience. However, as I study type in more depth, while that is true, I also now believe we had an underlying commonality.
Briefly, my experience was on a team of three developing a new product for helping teams work together more effectively. Dick Richardson and I worked for IBM and David Hutchens was an independent consultant. Dick and I had the content background, and David the writing skills. In a period of 6 months we developed a product called TeamPac that included 26 learning modules of 2 to 4 hours in length. TeamPac was a totally new approach to learning in IBM and was very successful.
One of the things that made this team so amazing is that Dick and I met for the first time one month before we started the project and I met David on our first day working together. We also lived in completely different parts of the US, so met face-to-face just once a month for a week and did the rest of the work by fax and conference call.
The Role of Type
Let’s start by looking at what I have focused in the 9 years since that great experience — our differences. Dick’s type is ENTP, David is INFP and I am an ESTJ. Having learned type in “parts,” we used to talk about our team’s diversity as having 2 E’s and 1 I, 2 N’s and 1 S, 2 T’s and 1 F, and 2 P’s and 1 J.
In 1998, I began enhancing my understanding of type by learning from Dr. Linda Berens. It is Beren’s approach to type that has given me the clearest understanding of the dynamics of this team.
When I looked at the team from a Temperament perspective, it was immediately obvious that this is an area of difference. With a Rational, Idealist and Guardian, we represent 3 of the 4 temperaments. And indeed, we did bring those different aspects to the work. Dick’s drive for mastery and competence was clearly demonstrated by the deep knowledge about teams and teamwork that he brought to the group. He also did the initial conceptual design of the product and was able to be sure we had a logical consistency from module to module.
As the writer of the materials, David’s Idealist values came through and made it easy for people to connect to the material. Our product had a unique identity as did our team. David was a catalyst in making that happen.
And, as the Guardian, I brought stability to the group and drove us to do activities that really helped us bond.
For those of you who are familiar with Beren’s work, you know that there are four Interaction Styles that overlay the temperaments (thus giving us 16 types). Dick, David and I represented three of the four interaction styles. Dick is a “Get Things Going,” David is a “Behind the Scenes,” and I am an “In Charge.” This too played out in our effectiveness.
When we met face-to-face to work on a module, Dick got us started. If we were working on a module on decision making, for example, Dick would say “What do we know about decision making in teams?” We would go from there. David would take all the discussion and integrate it into something that made sense.
As the “In Charge,” I kept us moving. If we seemed to stall, I would say, “OK, what’s going on page 4?” I also was the one who made sure we had everything complete on a module so we could send it to print and move on to the next module.
All of this diversity of temperament and interaction styles worked extremely well for us and we truly capitalized on it as we took on needed roles.
The Point of Commonality
What came to me very recently is an underlying point of commonality. With all of our differences, we seemed to work so smoothly together. We were particularly effective when we were tossing around ideas and considering what all of our ideas might mean and how they could be used.
When you look at cognitive dynamics, you will see something interesting. Extraverted Intuiting is in each of our codes. For Dick it is his dominant function. And, he was the one who would often get us started on the process of putting ideas out. For David, it is his secondary function, and he could access it as easily as Dick. Extraverted Intuiting is my tertiary function. I was 38 when this project started and had pretty easy access to it as well. Dick and David helped me have a whole new appreciation for the value of Extraverted Intuiting and was it fun when we all engaged in it together! With that in common, then of course the Sensing function was Introverted for all of us. So we used a very common approach for gathering data. We could tap into what we “knew” and then move into a mode of inferring. There was little conflict about our approach.
Our judging processes were not all the same, but that just brought a richness to the ultimate product as we used a combination of Extraverted and Introverted Thinking and Introverted Feeling. I believe that our easy and fun approach to data gathering set us up to appreciate differences in the decision making we did together.
So, sometimes we need to look at all three layers of type to see both the differences and the similarities. It can be insightful for us as we work with others to help them understand their experiences.
Susan Gerke (ESTJ), the president of Gerke Consulting & , based in Laguna Niguel, CA, is in business to help people learn to work better, together. (firstname.lastname@example.org)