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Blog | 04 February 2020

It takes all sorts

Wooden people: Sarah Todd | Photographs: Steve Sayers

Because different leaders bring different strengths to Scouts, learning about personality types – our own, and those around us – can help us work better together. We asked collaboration coach Kate Tapper to share her tips.

Research suggests that developing an awareness of personality types can help us to collaborate and communicate more effectively. To find out more about the benefits (and limits) of personality typing, we spoke to Kate Tapper, a coach who facilitates collaboration in academic leadership teams across the UK. She offers some tips for working with different personality types, and collaborating better in Scouts.

How can understanding personality differences help us to work better together?

Making use of personality types shouldn’t be about ‘labelling people or putting them into boxes’, Kate explains. ‘It’s about bringing more awareness to the way you choose to work with others.’

This means when we’re interacting, instead of reacting hastily to the way somebody does something, we’re more aware of the way they’re doing it, as well as our own personality types and preferences, and how and why we make certain decisions, or communicate in a particular way.

When we have a better understanding of where people are coming from (including ourselves), we can recalibrate our approach to take that person’s preferences into account. Using the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI), a well-known model for assessing personality types, Kate offers some tips for working with leaders of all sorts. 

A preference for extraversion or introversion

‘If you don’t know what an extravert is thinking then you haven’t been listening. If you don’t know what an introvert is thinking then you haven’t asked,’ Kate says, paraphrasing Isobel Myers (one of the developers of MBTI).

To include both extraverts and introverts in the conversation, Kate suggests allowing people to think and plan ‘before the discussion – this allows people to think things through and come to the discussion ready to voice their thoughts.’ She also suggests asking leaders to share thoughts one by one, before bouncing other ideas around: ‘This way your discussion is informed by everyone’s thinking rather than the loudest voices.’

A preference for sense or intuition

The MBTI suggests that some of us are more drawn to facts, and some of us to ideas. Intuitive types may find the principle and theory of things to be most interesting, while sensing types might prefer a more practical application – the what and how of things.

These differences have probably come up in your group decision-making process. To take everyone’s preferences into account, Kate suggests creating time ‘dedicated to considering all the factual information, followed by time to talk about the patterns and meaning you see in the facts and the ideas you have. This stops the back and forth between “here’s an idea” and “that’ll never work”.’ It gets everyone involved in
the facts and the ideas stages.

A preference for thinking or feeling

The MBTI is based on a theory by psychoanalyst Carl Jung, who, as Kate explains, ‘considered thinking and feeling to be equally valuable and rational decision-making functions’.

She says, ‘When we use our thinking preference, we stand back and look at the pros and cons of a decision, weighing it up with logical analysis. When we use our feeling preference, we step into others’ shoes and empathise with how a decision will affect them and whether this aligns with our values. Big decisions typically involve both. When we’re under stress, we may need to be reminded to do both!’

Her tip to facilitate this is to invite everyone to ‘put different hats on’. Wearing the thinking hat, ask, ‘Logically, what would happen if we…?’ With the feeling hat on, ask, ‘Putting ourselves in others’ shoes, what would happen if we…? and what do our values say about that?’

A preference for planning or spontaneity

‘This comes up a lot in collaboration!’ Kate laughs. ‘People with a judging (planned) preference feel most comfortable with a decision made and a plan in place. They create structure, order and schedules. People with a perceiving (spontaneous) preference feel most comfortable with a loose and flexible plan that can flex depending on what comes up. They feel constrained by too much structure and don’t want to be pinned down too early on. This can make planning and working together difficult.’

To facilitate better collaboration between these varying preferences, she suggests agreeing on ‘stress relieving milestones. These are when certain things will be done. Then leave everyone to get on with their part in their own way.’

Scenario 1: optimists vs pessimists

Most teams have one person who always vocalises the reasons why something won’t work, rather than focusing on the reasons why it could be great and thinking positively about an idea. How do you take on board the pessimist’s points but ultimately move past this and not get held back by the Eeyore of the team? They have excellent uses for essentially risk assessing ideas and having good points of view, but it can kill the energy of those trying to be proactive, and cause frustrations.

Kate: ‘My best tip is to invite everyone to be a pessimist at the same time! That might sound strange, but it works. What you do is ask everyone to think of all the reasons why this idea won’t work for five minutes.

‘Then, ask everyone to think of all the ways in which the idea could work for five minutes. You get people to wear different ‘hats’ in this way and it gets everyone involved in looking at things from different angles.’

Scenario 2: managing behaviour

Leaders have different techniques for behaviour management and getting young people to hush down. I’m thinking about a leader who uses the ‘hands up’ technique compared to a whistle or shouting ‘Quiet’. Some leaders might find shouting or a whistle a little extreme, whereas other may think the ‘hands up’ technique isn’t as effective.

How do we delicately decide what’s best for the young people, without offending colleagues who favour different tactics?

Kate: ‘My strategy would be to make a group agreement together with all the leaders and the young people themselves. Even young children have clear ideas about fair and respectful behaviour. Make the agreement two-way. You might include statements like “I will respect other people’s time”, “I will listen to everyone”. This way everyone’s views are taken into account and the answer is co-created, rather than imposed.’

Scenario 3: managing expectations

At a planning meeting, one leader was nominated to take charge of making plans for summer camp and asked to look into ideas for what could be done and take charge of the expedition on behalf of the group. X is excited by the opportunities, and gets cracking making decisions and starting to book things.

A few weeks later, the rest of the team realises that decisions and bookings are being made but they now feel out of the loop and concerned that things are progressing too fast without wider involvement. 

How do we keep leaders motivated when given a task while making sure they keep other leaders feeling involved and not side-lined?

Kate: ‘The trick here is getting the brief right for the task leader. You need to be really clear about what “taking charge” actually means. In this scenario, the brief could be “go and research the opportunities and come back with your recommendations of the top three so that we can decide together”. Another way would be for the group to decide the criteria that the booking must meet before they book. Assuming that people mean the same thing is dangerous!’

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