In my experience, these workshops are a lot like most lessons learned meetings: We attend, document the results, and leave with ideas we never use. We may respond to our profile with enthusiasm or roll our eyes cynically. We may pin it up on our cubicle wall, or chuck it into the recycling bin. We develop little in-jokes about the training and a few significant interactions we notice. Then we go on about our business as if nothing has changed –- mostly because it hasn't. Without fairly frequent reminders, any new habit can easily fall by the wayside. Even more significantly, we usually don't have any models for using these concepts beyond the sanitized, sterilized, relentlessly positive workshop environment. We need a vision of how these concepts interact in the real world.
Years ago, I got this vision from an unexpected interaction with a boss. "He's a yellow, so here's what I need for that conversation," he told me. I asked what he meant, and he said he'd learned that shorthand at his previous job. The entire division had gone to a typing workshop and returned the next day to find colored badges on their office doors. Everyone had a colored nameplate matching their decision type. There were four different colors -– yellow, red, blue, and green -– and each represented a different approach to gathering, synthesizing, and analyzing information.
"If I walk up to a door with a blue nameplate," he said, "I'd better start by asking about the family, and settle into hear about the camping trip they took this weekend. There will be fifteen minutes of that before we even start talking about Fluffy. If the nameplate is green, I'd better know Fluffy's whole story and understand the emotional impact. How old was Fluffy? Were there any kittens? Do we have any pictures we can hang up somewhere? If I'm approaching a yellow, I need to discuss the technical angles. Was the warehouse door left open, was there fog or proper lighting, how long did we search, did we follow proper procedures. But if the nameplate is red, I just stick my head in the door and say, 'Oh, by the way, we need a new cat.'"
I laughed until my sides hurt. Twenty years later, I've long since forgotten the exact color associations, but I still think about the different ways people might want to process poor Fluffy's unfortunate demise. Some of us need to do a risk analysis to preserve the value of future proposed cats, and to analyze what happened to make sure we don't have to go cat searching again anytime soon. I'm the type that wants to analyze the forensic evidence and compile a 15-page report on the cat and its importance to us (by the way, did I tell you about what happened this weekend?) before talking about the cat search. (A bigger cat. A better cat. One that can phase through doors and moving vans. Yeah, that's the ticket ...) And some of us just want to know the cat's dead.
How can you encourage that kind of understanding in your project team? For some groups, colored name badges and formal types may be just the way to go. Maybe you'd prefer a more informal approach, like Kimberly Wiefling's User's Guide to Working with Me, that still keeps the critical information front and center. With a small group, it might be most useful just to have a team conversation about the observations you've all made.
However you approach it, remember that the goal is not to stuff people into boxes, but to break out of them. You're not dealing with the difficult exec or the obsessive engineer, you're dealing with someone who needs bottom line information or detailed analysis. Your coworker might be naturally chatty because they build trust through socialization rather than work interaction. Maybe the terse, unapproachable CFO just needs to hear that it's time to get a new cat.
Employees in smaller companies typically learn each other's work and communication styles inside out, because they spend so much time together and have few relationships to keep track of. In a company of hundreds or thousands, it's vastly more difficult to remember who prefers a long chat and who would rather read the executive summary. In these more complex, impersonal environments, "personality workshops" can serve a very real purpose. They help us recognize our own personality and processing quirks, spot different styles in others, and may even give us roleplaying practice to fall back on when a colleague starts inadvertently pushing buttons.
But wouldn't it be nice to carry at least some of these skills into our day-to-day interactions and learn how to avoid pushing so many of those buttons in the first place? We can make much better use of these ubiquitous tools. In the final analysis, it's less important to remember that Meg is a D and Jerry an S, or that Pradeep is an ESTP and Limous an INTJ. What matters is understanding how those differences affect perception –- theirs and ours.