24 Aug 2017


Great teams are made up of people with a diverse range of skills and personalities. That means understanding what makes people tick is an important skill.

Words: Jeremy Snape, Sporting Edge

Having an instinctive feeling for what someone is like is essential, but there are also other tools at the manager’s disposal. Means of assessing personality have been used in business for some time as an aid to recruiting, assessing and developing talent, and they are also increasingly finding their way into the world of elite sport.


The popular Myers Briggs Type Indicator is one example. Based on the idea of opposites, the system involves giving an individual a series of choices and then placing their preferences into one of two categories along four dimensions. This approach is not going to directly impact on someone’s ability to hit targets, but managers can create the optimum environment for their success by helping them to develop their self-awareness.

Often we need to search beyond visible behaviours to understand what’s really going on inside someone’s head. For example, while some team members might be happy to brainstorm and will instinctively come out with ideas and answers during a team meeting (extraversion), others may need time to reflect on what’s been said before they share their reasoned responses (introversion).

There is value in embracing both styles, but often it is the extroverts who capture our attention as their opinions lead the pack. Some team members need the granular detail, while others just need our simple and high-level intent, but if we get this wrong we risk losing both groups. A simple personality profile can help us to shape our approach to communication.


People are also motivated by different things. Some people enjoy spontaneity and the call for creativity and change in the moment, but for others the fear of being underprepared causes a crippling tension. Having an awareness of these differences can be useful, for example, in deciding when and how to inform people about changes to the next day’s plans.

The way in which people learn is just as important. Do they need to feel the difference that something can make to truly understand it (kinaesthetic) or do they respond best to audio or visual presentations? Considering these different learning styles when choosing coaching and teaching techniques and strategies can help to maximise the impact and retention of your message.

As we survey the multitude of personality and learning preferences out there, the complexity can be daunting. But the strength of using profiles is in their ability to start a discussion. When you discuss the results with a team member and they say ‘it’s just like me’ or ‘that can’t be right’, it is as valuable as the profile itself. Coaching, after all, is a communication process, not the outcome of a report.

It is at this point that team psychologists can make a real difference as, while there is value in discussing personality profiles in groups, the biggest impact often comes from one-to-one sessions. People tend to have questions about their profiles and, with the help of a qualified facilitator, they can reflect on past choices and start to set future goals.


Of course, getting to know your team members is an iterative process rather than a single event. To counterbalance the self-assessment nature of most profiles, the traditional method of seeking the opinions of respected peers can be key. Recollections about how someone has behaved under pressure provides a window into their character; how did they gel with their previous managers and what personality clashes have they had? The steady accumulation of these insights over time provides the pattern on which a manager can make a fast decision when it counts.

But using profiling solely as a means of understanding the individuals in your team would be a mistake. By profiling ourselves we can better understand our coaching chemistry. This starts with our own self-awareness.

When managers understand their natural preferences they make more informed choices. In a world of high stakes decision-making, knowing yourself and those around you could give you an invaluable edge.