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How to use personality tests to build a productive team

By Genevieve Colman · April 19, 2021
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It's late on Tuesday night, and instead of sleeping like you should be, you find yourself taking a personality quiz your friend texted you. There's clearly no way you'll be able to sleep until you confirm you'd never be a Slytherin. 

Some of these personality tests might be silly, but the reason we're drawn to them isn't. Personality assessments are intriguing because we want to know what makes us us. Why am I special? What is my place in the world? Who am I?

Having a better understanding of who you are also helps you better understand how you work with others. Businesses and companies find personality assessments helpful too—they can help them build successful and productive teams.

Here's how personality tests work, as well as how they can improve teamwork and empathy with others.

  • What personality is—and how to measure it

  • How to use personality tests appropriately

  • How to use personality data for more successful teams

What personality is—and how to measure It

Hippocrates personality types

Our fascination with personality is nothing new. In fact, we've been at it for at least a few thousand years. For example, Greek physician Hippocrates suggested personality was influenced by a lack or excess of certain bodily fluids and that there were four main personality temperaments:

  • Sanguine (optimistic and social)

  • Choleric (short-tempered or irritable)

  • Melancholic (analytical and quiet)

  • Phlegmatic (relaxed, peaceful, or apathetic)

Thanks to modern science and medicine, we know that apathetic behavior isn't caused by excess phlegm (ew). But we're still not quite sure exactly what personality is. Despite the dozens of more plausible theories that try to explain personality, psychologists don't agree on one unifying theory.

Personality psychology boils down to this: we each have certain personality traits, and we try to identify and measure those traits and predict how they affect our behavior and attitudes. This is really complicated and difficult to do because so many different factors affect our personality, including biology, culture, environment, emotion, memory, and so on.

But trying to understand your personality can still be worthwhile, especially when you're working with a group of other humans. Each individual brings a unique set of knowledge, skills, and traits to a group—but collaborating across different likes, dislikes, and working styles is a learned skill that starts with introspection. 

Today, companies use a wide selection of tools and assessments for individuals and groups for help with hiring and team-building. Here are a few of the most common options.

Myers-Briggs Type Indicator

Myers-Briggs Type Indicator

One of the most popular instruments used, the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) is based on psychologist Carl G. Jung's theory of psychological types. MBTI places a person into one of 16 personality types.

MBTI measures people's preferences for where they get their energy (extraversion vs. introversion), how they handle information (sensing vs. intuition), how they make decisions (thinking vs. feeling), and how they structure the outside world (judging vs. perceiving). Someone's type, a combination of four letters (such as IMFJ or ENTP), is a shorthand way of understanding how that person tends to take in information and make decisions.

If you'd like to find out what your MBTI type is, 16Personalities offers a free test and breakdown of each personality type (including workplace habits), using labels like "advocate," "virtuoso," and "logician."

Big Five Personality Traits

Big 5 Personality Traits

The Big Five focuses on five major dimensions of personality traits: openness to experience, conscientiousness, extroversion, agreeableness, and neuroticism. It looks at traits that tend to occur together within these broad categories of personality traits.

"The Big Five are, collectively, a taxonomy of personality traits: a coordinate system that maps which traits go together in people's descriptions or ratings of one another," writes Sanjay Srivastava. "For example, talkativeness and assertiveness are both traits associated with extraversion."

The Big Five model is helpful for describing personality differences. People who have high agreeableness, for example, are more likely to cooperate and go along with group decisions, whereas those low in this trait would be more competitive and go against the grain. If you're high in conscientiousness, you're likely organized and have good impulse control, as opposed to those who fly by the seat of their pants. Some research suggests that having high openness—interest in learning, creativity, and willingness to try new things—correlates with a tendency to be proactive, both as a team and as an individual.

One caveat, though: The Big Five were determined by a statistical process called factor analysis. But the original sample data was heavily weighted towards people from North America and Europe, and researchers still aren't 100% sure how these traits work across cultures. 

Keeping that in mind, you can take a Big Five personality test at Truity.com. You'll rate yourself on questions such as "I cut others to pieces" and "I make plans and keep them."



DiSC is a tool based on psychologist William Moulton Marston's work on emotions and behavior. DiSC focuses on four different traits: dominance, influence, steadiness, and conscientiousness. Generally, individuals will have one trait that is dominant over the other three.

Assessments not only help you understand your own style, but they also help you understand how you react to other styles. For example, someone with D style (dominant) will tend to be more direct and results-driven because they really value action, but someone with an S style (steadiness) could interpret their directness as being too blunt or demanding. When working with a D style, the S style would want to consider getting right to the point of the discussion and focusing on benefits and outcomes.

Learn how you communicate with a free DiSC personality test. Organizations can use the comprehensive Everything DiSC with their employees.

Keirsey Temperament Sorter

Kiersey Temperament Sorter

The Keirsey Temperament Sorter is based on Keirsey Temperament Theory, which suggests there are four basic temperament groups: Artisans, Guardians, Rationals, and Idealists, with four subgroups in each. The report includes information on how people with each temperament tend to communicate, how they rebel, what makes them proud, and the leadership style they tend to prefer. Team reports include information on the team's overall style as well as individuals' styles.

For example, writer Melanie Pinola took the Keirsey Temperament Sorter and was told her personality type is Guardian:

Guardians can have a lot of fun with their friends, but they are quite serious about their duties and responsibilities. Guardians take pride in being dependable and trustworthy; if there's a job to be done, they can be counted on to put their shoulder to the wheel. [...]

Practical and down-to-earth, Guardians believe in following the rules and cooperating with others. They are not very comfortable winging it or blazing new trails; working steadily within the system is the Guardian way, for in the long run loyalty, discipline, and teamwork get the job done right.

A pretty accurate assessment, Pinola says, adding, however, that other aspects of her personality are missing from the brief description.

The 70-question free personality assessment at Keirsey.com can help you understand what motivates you and how you tend to act. The questions can be tough, though, asking you to decide between two opposite traits: if you're "ruled more by your thoughts or your feelings," for example, with no middle ground. After answering the questions, you'll get a free mini-report, but more in-depth reports cost $7.95 to $19.95.

The Birkman Method

Created by Roger W. Birkman in the 1950s, The Birkman Method is an industry-leading personality assessment based on perception. It looks at four key perspectives: motivation, self-perception, social perception, and mindset. By understanding how these perspectives influence one another, individuals can better understand their emotions and actions—giving insight into how to work better with others.

Millions of people have taken the Birkman Assessment, and thousands of companies use it to help employees thrive in their work environment—including us here at Zapier. New Zapier employees take the Birkman during onboarding. Ryan, our Learning & Development Manager, explains: "The Birkman is a tool to help people have conversations with themselves and their colleagues with the ultimate goal of increasing self-awareness and awareness of others."

The Birkman Method prides itself on helping individuals and companies solve their challenges. Once individuals take the assessment, you can use it for team-building exercises, leadership development, employee growth planning, and more. Ryan added:

At the end of the day, the goal is that by being more self-aware and aware of your colleagues, people will feel empowered to take actions to get their needs met and take actions to better show up for their colleagues. The end result being that people thrive more—they can bring their best selves to the table.

Although just under 300 questions, the Birkman Method takes on average only about 30 minutes. The questions are built to be quick, instinctual responses. The Birkman emphasizes that there are no right or wrong answers. It's just about helping individuals (and companies) discover what motivates you, how you see yourself in the world, situations where you feel the most stress, and the why behind your actions. 

How to use personality tests appropriately

Personality tests are fun, so there's often a lot of enthusiasm around taking them—even in the workplace. But it's important to remember that, like any tool, they're only useful in the right situations. 

"They're not a magic genie lamp," says Jeremy A. Stewart, brand manager for Everything DiSC. "You don't just hand them out and they give you all the answers. It's about creating an environment where you're building knowledge."

Personality assessments can be a great way to help employees understand what they need in a role or work environment, and how they prefer to work. But humans, of course, are more complex than a personality assessment printout—so it's crucial to take them with a grain of salt rather than a reason to aggressively pigeonhole folks. 

"Even a very comprehensive profile of somebody's personality traits can only be considered a partial description of their personality," writes Sanjay Srivastava, psychologist at the University of Oregon.

With that limitation in mind, let's explore a few ways you can use personality assessments constructively, to help your team perform better.

How to use personality data for more successful teams

Here are a few ways you can use personality assessments to improve your teams and optimize for more successful projects:

1. Make personality assessments part of onboarding

Personality assessments during onboarding (when done with care and thought) add to a company culture of transparency and communication. Experts warn against using personality assessments to actually make the hiring decisions, but they can be a great tool during the onboarding process. 

Once you have that new hire and have moved them into onboarding, Stewart shares, "you can use the data to focus their energy toward things they're passionate about and excel at. Or use it to help build up areas they're not as confident in and challenge them in creative ways." 

By using personality assessments as part of onboarding, new hires learn their own work style as well as tips on how to work well with other styles. Plus, the long-term benefits of personality assessments include increased productivity, better teamwork, and more confident employees.

2. Use tools to find personality types

Crystal Knows
A personality report from Crystal Knows

You can now find all kinds of tools to help you begin the process of conducting personality assessments for your team. Here are some examples:

  • Crystal Knows released a Personality AI app that helps you understand the personalities of the people you interact and communicate with. 

  • Tools like Good&Co offer assessments based on personality theory to better understand yourself and your team.

  • WealthDynamics caters specifically to entrepreneurs.

Depending on what you and your company needs, there are tools that can help you take away the guesswork on how to improve team communication and collaboration. 

3. Strive for diversity

One of the most important conclusions drawn from personality research is that teams with a range of personalities are more likely to find success.

Researchers looked at the personalities of software development teams and found that including variations of personalities had a balancing effect during team projects. For example, during stressful situations when negative feelings are festering, team members with more social and agreeable attitudes were able to help mitigate conflict and maintain team optimism, boost morale and encourage involvement. On the other hand, aggressiveness and conscientious behaviors helped keep the team on track and hit deadlines.

As you build your team—no matter what tool or assessment you use—strive for a balanced representation of personalities. 

4. Rotate roles based on project stages

As any project manager knows, complex projects contain many phases between initiation and completion. Personality assessments can help project managers put the right person in charge of each phase. 

For example, one team member might be better at kicking off a project and getting buy-in, while another team member might be stronger when it comes to planning and details.

If you look at the DiSC model, "'D' style people tend to seek out more management and leadership roles," Stewart says. "Someone with conscientiousness (C) might be more focused on accounting or details than others. Somebody who is more of an 'I' style, a social chameleon, might be better in sales. Certain types of traits are more attracted to certain types of roles."

Personality assessments give you insight on how best to empower your employees. Try experimenting with who leads what phases and to best use their personality traits to benefit the project and its needs.

5. Know your own style

Digging deeper into personality data doesn't have to be a team activity. Having a good sense of your own styles and aptitudes can lead to better collaboration and communication in work and beyond. Sites like 16Personalities and Truity offer free tests for individuals.

Personality assessments aren't a magic bullet, but they can be a great help in building understanding about how individuals think and communicate—which can help team leaders balance their teams, foster empathy, and fit the right individuals with the right roles. By using the data properly, you can create more opportunities to optimize the way you work and build team communication.

Read more:

This article was originally published in June 2016 and has since had contributions from Hannah Herman and Ellie Huizenga. Hippocrates personality types image via Wikimedia. Myers-Briggs image via Wikimedia. Big Five screenshot via Truity.com. DiSC image via Everything DiSC. Keirsey Temperament Sorter image via Keirsey.com.

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