CG #45 – Collaboration and Your Myer’s-Briggs Type

Yeah, I know:  I used to poo-poo it too.  But did you know that the MBTI can protect you from groupthink like nothing else?  It’s true.

Word Count: 686

Reading Time: About 3 minutes

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“You can’t say that!”  Norma was staring at me like I’d just sprouted horns. “You can’t ask people a question like that.”

“What’s wrong with ‘How can you talk so much?’  I really want to know how extroverts can keep talking and talking.”

Norma and I were both INFPs.  As participants in an MBTI workshop, our task was to come up with questions we wanted to ask extroverts.

“It’s so…abrupt.”  Norma narrowed her eyes at my name badge.  Next to my name were the letters “INFP.”

“I don’t think you prefer feeling,” she said.

Norma was right.   By the end of the workshop,  I was ready to admit I was an INTP, not an INFP.  Changing that one letter required a complete remodel of who I thought I was.  That remodel took months.

INTP and INFP differ by only one letter, but they are worlds apart.

This difference becomes clear when we look at how each of these types solves a problem.  An INTP approaches a problem or decision in this order:

FIRST, she thinks about the logical consequences of various courses of action.  She spends 28 minutes of every hour doing this. (Thinking Preference)

SECOND, she opens to all the possible courses of action.  She spends 18 minutes doing this. (Intuition Preference)

THIRD, she considers what has already been done, how that is actually working, and whether any change is necessary. She spends about 10 minutes of every hour on this. (Sensing, not her preference)

LAST, she spends about 4 minutes of every hour considering how the action she’s considering will affect the people involved. This does not come easily. (Feeling, not her preference).

An INFP reverses the 1st and 4th steps:  Feeling first, 28 minutes, Intuition second for 18 minutes, Sensing third for 10 minutes and Thinking last for 4 minutes.  Relying on impersonal logic to solve a problem is hard on the INFP; considering the impact on people is hard on the INTP.

Simply looking at a 4-letter type code won’t show you how opposite these types are.  It won’t show how these two types will run into trouble.  And the type code alone won’t show you how big that trouble is.

But use type to show how each type approaches solving a problem and you’ve got the Rosetta Stone of collaboration. 

Briefly summarized:

The inability to think in sync makes a mess of your meetings. 

Norma and I were out of sync.  We were repelled by the other’s most natural approach to our task.  It took work for each of us not to make the other bad, wrong or somehow broken.   Reconciling our differences seemed impossible, so we reached for a structure that would help.

When you structure a meeting so people think in sync with one another, you’ll see the synergy, energy, commitment and productivity that’s been eluding you.

I’m not talking about groupthink, where divergent points of view are silenced.  I’m not talking about Robert’s Rules of Order, which is often used to overwhelm a minority view while pretending to include it.  I’m talking about a structure that helps a team step through a conversation together.  This synchronization makes it easier for them to include and be affected by even the most divergent viewpoint.

Norma and I took turns explaining our points of view and paraphrasing them back to each other.  We were soon laughing about how opposite they were. We agreed on an approach to our task, and finished before any of the other groups.

Which points to another strength of collaborative meeting structure:  Time.  Helping people to think in sync moves more quickly than open discussion can, gets you higher quality decisions than Robert’s Rules can.

Structure is the difference between building your dream house by piling all the lumber on the empty lot, and hoping for the best, or using the design and building process to help the architect and contractors sync up and produce their best work.  Proper structure makes collaboration inevitable.

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