Finding Individuality in Teamwork

January 28, 2019 by FlexPro

There’s a favorite quote of mine by Oscar Wilde that goes, “Be yourself, everyone else is already taken.” It speaks to me, especially as an identical twin, because in my case there is another person who looks like me, sounds like me and of course even shares my birthday. Growing up as an identical twin it wasn’t unusual for Lynn and I to share clothes, have the same friends, like the same movies and finish each other’s sentences. There’s no question that we still have a lot of similarities and a sometimes uncanny mental connection, which we always chalk up to the twin thing. For example, a few years ago we unknowingly both went out the same day and bought the same exact car, within hours of each other! Growing up, whether it was in school (we even went to the same college), activities, sports or family events, it was easy for people to forget that we weren’t the same person. The fact is that although we are overall more alike than different, we are two different people. We have different personalities, different opinions on issues, different preferences in style, colors, food and music. In growing up as identical twins, the struggle was real in trying to differentiate ourselves as two unique individuals, especially when what everyone saw was the same. I think that’s why we both appreciate and embrace the differences in the people we meet and that as project managers we understand that everyone brings something different to the table.

Because it’s something that interests me, our leadership team recently spent some time learning about Enneagram and the associated personality types. In Wikipedia, the Enneagram of Personality is defined as, “a model of the human psyche which is principally understood and taught as a typology of nine interconnected personality types…In business contexts it is generally used as a typology to gain insights into workplace interpersonal-dynamics.” These nine personality types are demonstrated in a geometric figure called an enneagram. Understanding how we all fit into these nine types can be a useful tool in our own and our team’s personal growth and development as well as gaining insights into how we can all best work with each other.

As defined by the Enneagram Institute, the nine personality types are:

  1. The Reformer: The rational, idealistic type – principled, purposeful, self-controlled and perfectionist.
  2. The Helper: The caring, interpersonal type – demonstrative, generous, people-pleasing and possessive.
  3. The Achiever: The success-oriented, pragmatic type – adaptive, excelling, driven and image conscious.
  4. The Individualist: The sensitive, withdrawn type – expressive, dramatic, self-absorbed and temperamental.
  5. The Investigator: The intense, cerebral type – perceptive, innovative, secretive and isolated.
  6. The Loyalist: The committed, security oriented type – engaging, responsible, anxious, and suspicious.
  7. The Enthusiast: The busy, fun-loving type: spontaneous, versatile, distractible and scattered.
  8. The Challenger: The powerful, dominating type – self-confident, decisive, willful and confrontational.
  9. The Peacemaker: The easygoing, self effacing type – receptive, reassuring, agreeable and complacent.

While some people may be uncomfortable with the concept of “labeling” someone to a specific type, the exercise was most useful as a starting point for understanding each other better. No, it’s not a magic bullet to create the perfect  team dynamic, however, it is a tool that can be brought into a team to help them learn to work better together. The key is for each person to be totally honest in how they answer. There is no right or wrong here, just an opportunity to look deep within yourself and answer for the true you. To be most effective, participants also need to be okay with being a little bit vulnerable. Probably not a surprise to many that I scored highest in type 3, “The Achiever” and also very strong in type 1, “The Reformer” (yes, I’m a perfectionist!)  Also not surprising is that Lynn was similar with her highest as type 1, “The Reformer” and next as type 3, “the Achiever”. I consider myself generally self-aware, but really did discover things about why I may behave a certain way in stressful situations, for example. While self-awareness is always good, if a team is willing to share and discuss their types openly, it can result in a greater sense of understanding and empathy for each other.

Not every team may be ready to be this self-reflective, but if you take it on, I guarantee you’ll learn something you didn’t know about each other. As Project Managers, we’re the leaders who are responsible for not only identifying conflict within our team, but also creating resolution. Understanding an individual’s natural tendencies in all situations, from stress to success, can help you foster a more agreeable and productive environment for the entire team. Give it a try and let us know how it goes.  (If you need a trained Enneagram facilitator to work with you and your team, contact us and we’ll make an introduction.)

-Rose Cook, FlexPro CEO

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