On Wednesday morning at AYE, I attended a session that Don Gray ran on personality types. The session was focused on the MBTI temperaments; so we broke up into groups based on our personality types, with each group given 10 minutes to come up with a definition of teamwork and 10 minutes to come up with a picture. There were a lot of NTs in the session, so we formed two NT groups, which (as it turned out) led to some interesting results.

My group (one of the NT ones) spent the first 10 minutes brainstorming characteristics of teamwork. Everybody had their say (and we were good about not squelching each other), and in particular everybody (well, at least me, and I suspect I’m not the only one) had to periodically explain why some crucial part of the vision had been left out or mischaracterized in the discussion so far. So, of course, we had nothing approaching a definition by the end of the first 10 minutes, though we had a lot of good raw material.

After that, there was a bit of a schism: one person started organizing a vote on the items that we’d produced via the brainstorming, while some other people started working on pictures. And then something surprising happened: one of the pictures (people climbing a mountain together) came off remarkably well for capturing what we thought was important. (Basically, vision plus trust.) So we quickly agreed on that, turned our attention to the voting and finished it off, and finally spent some time debriefing within the group.

To me, the most interesting thing about our team’s debrief was when we discussed the items that didn’t get a lot of votes: it’s not that we didn’t think that they were important, it’s that we thought that they were second-order phenomena that followed naturally from the ones getting more votes. (E.g. if you have a shared vision, trust, and respect, then you’ll probably have a fair amount of cooperation.) So we somehow managed to come up with a surprisingly elegant set of teamwork-related primitives.

But by far the most interesting part of the session was the mutual debrief. For one thing, all the groups’ pictures were completely different from each other. For another thing, the processes by which they’d developed the pictures were quite different: the SPs in particular were done in about five minutes, and had a lovely picture as a result. There were only two SPs, but both said (and I believed) that it would have flowed almost as well if there had been more; in contrast, I’m quite sure that if there had been more NTs, then we would have taken ages because of everybody having to chime in with their unique spin on the matter, and NFs would also have had a scaling problem from making sure that everybody felt appropriately included.

And just watching the commenters was a sight to behold. Over and over again, NTs (very much including myself) would find something that they just had to say, some interaction between an event they observed and their world view. To be sure, NTs were way overrepresented in the session (I think about half of us were NTs), so you’d expect to hear a fair amount of commentary from us, but I really do think we had a distinctive flavor for when/how we felt that we had to comment. In particular, over and over again I saw other people act in ways that I do all the time myself.

Also, at one point in the conversation about one of the NT groups’ products, one of the SJ had the most remarkably look of horror on her face. I’m sure she meant well, but something (I wish I could remember what—something about the picture? the discussion?) seemed completely alien to her.

I also learned a lot from comparing the two NT groups’ results. The other NT group didn’t manage to come up with a single drawing, and instead drew various aspects/visions of what teamwork meant to them with a unifying picture in the center. I hope this doesn’t come off wrong if any of them are reading this, because I think that coming up with a good picture is surprisingly hard and it’s just sheer luck that one member of my group (not me!) came up quickly with a picture that worked well for all of us. But, to me, the other NT team’s pictures showed some of the pitfalls of having a bunch of NTs design something: sometimes, they can’t agree, leading to a result that’s pretty disorganized. Though then there’s the flip side: I think our picture and supporting key principles worked surprisingly well, including the ways that we tested it afterwards and found some unexpected consequences of the definition. So, if a bunch of NTs design something and you’re lucky, then you might end up with something that’s surprisingly elegant; if you’re not lucky, though, you’ll get a lot of talking leading to an unsatisfactory result.

I was expecting to come out of the session learning something more about talking to other personality types. And I hope I got some thoughts that would be useful in that direction, but I ended up learning a lot more about my personality type, and about how we interact with other NTs. Which, honestly, may well be more useful to me: the IT industry in general and my group in particular is loaded with NTs! It’s certainly given me an appreciation for the pitfalls of loading a team with unitaskers.

On that point, a side note: in his Clinic Method session, Jerry mentioned teaching a course for a team of 40 people, 39 of whom were INTPs. (My own type!) One central part of this course is a four-hour simulation where they form an organization to build a product: this team, instead of getting up and doing stuff, spent the entire four hours sitting in their chairs arguing, and ended up with no concrete results! So: if you’re forming a group made up of your “best and brightest”, you really want to make sure that you don’t limit your definition of that term such that it only includes INTPs, or any other single personality type.

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