This Week's Leaders

Howdy, Stranger!

It looks like you're new here. If you want to get involved, click one of these buttons!

Recognize people who are amazing at talent optimization on LinkedIn & we'll donate $10 for every shout out to Triangle, Inc.
Click on the green "Make A Better World" button towards the upper right hand side of the site to learn more.

How do you help employees/teams understand that they're different and that's OK?

This is a question I've been pondering a lot lately. It's very easy to grow up thinking everyone else is just like us, and it's often a rude awakening when we realize people are wired differently! I've noticed that when teams use assessments for self-awareness, there's a tendency to believe one way of being is better than another (and not just in the sense someone thinks they're better than someone else, but even others thinking, "I wish I was more ___ like so-and-so.")

Specific example: I was working with a group of people who took Les McKeown's Synergist quiz. He has four types: Visionaries (big picture idea people), Operators (doers), Processors (systems thinkers), and Synergists (team-oriented). There's value in each of these types, but the group started pointing fingers. Operators judged Processors and Visionaries for not being as good at "doing." Processors judged Operators and Visionaries for flying by the seat of their pants. And so on. What was meant to be a productive activity ended up being a way to pigeonhole and judge people for being different.

How do you help people realize that each behavioral pattern is good? That one's not inherently better than the other and it depends entirely on the company, the role, the team, the time, etc.? Is this just human nature or can you fight that tendency?


  • Honestly, it's in the training. I don't think teams should be taking assessments without understanding the meaning behind the results and how to apply the results in real life. I don't have experience with Les McKeown's Synergist quiz but, as a PI Partner, if our clients are having an issue like this, we haven't done our jobs.

    In this instance, it seems that the team was not focused on SELF-awareness, which is what assessments should be about, but more focused on placing blame on others. That tells me there's a much deeper problem that needs to be solved within the group.

  • @Natalie Grogan That's GREAT insight, RE: the team not understanding the use of the assessment before it was administered. So, if I'm understanding correctly, it's important to set up the use case first, before assessments are used on teams. It would probably also make sense to consider the trust among the team so it's the proper environment to bring assessments into (so they're used appropriately, rather than weaponized).

  • @Shannon Howard I had a very similar experience in another workplace. The session was run by a somewhat junior HR business partner. It turned into exactly what you described in your post. The "Doers" were especially harsh on the rest of the people in the room. The repercussions of that session lingered on the team for a long time.

    @Natalie Grogan you nailed it! The person running the session has to take command of the discussion. As trained practitioners and partners, we know how to do that. It's the obligation of the person running the session to spread the word that "all patterns are beautiful" and "all reference profiles are beautiful" too. Where I see danger lurking is when our clients run the sessions without our help and insights. (Our session was run by... guess who - a "Doer" and her bias was palpable.)

    As we say in our training "with great power - comes great responsibility."

  • Shannon,

    This vignette twinges at my heart a bit as I hate to see teams devolve their conversation to this level, especially given the potential of the conversation to uplift and support their shared work efforts.

    At the same time, it's not an uncommon stance to take once someone is given a 'tested' or 'validated' tool. We are programmed to give our authority away externally, abrogating the responsibility we each have to do our own internal work. Great point above on emphasizing the SELF-awareness intention of the activity @Natalie Grogan.

    Rather than go on a philosophical rant about the nature of the human condition and our predisposition towards separatist and negative perspectives, as I am wont to do, I will offer a practical framework. I use this in my executive coaching and talent optimization practice to ensure my clients (or groups) stay on the positive side of the conversation as well as we humans can.

    Namely, I like to leverage Richard Boyatzis' research on a behavioral approach to emotional intelligence where he identifies positive and negative emotional attractors (PEA and NEA, respectively) that influence the quality of our emotional presence in the conversation. When our PEAs are activated, we tend to see the world through the lens of 'Thrive.' When our NEAs are activated, we tend to see the world through the lens of 'Survive.' You can guess which ones would have been helpful to activate before initiating a discussion about the assessment results.

    I'll leave you to dive more deeply into Dr. Boyatzis' work, as it's worth the read and this isn't a psychology class. But suffice it to say, how we contextualize the conversation (as @Natalie Grogan @Natalie Grogan and @Dorothy LaMark mentioned) will greatly influence where our people go with the conversation.

    Specifically, I would have established the team context by understanding the challenges ahead and the current strategy to tackle those challenges. Then, looking at the assessment results I would ask open-ended questions about how the natural strengths of each individual can be leveraged by other team members to enhance performance and unlock the innovative potential of the team as a whole.

    Emphasizing the individual perspective on the results (rather than the groups) deconstructs the tendency to silo into factions, reinforces the SELF-reflective intention of the tool, and also suggests that each individual can embody the broader behavioral tendencies (aka the label) differently. Kind of like how your experience of certain PI reference profiles can vary with each individuals' idiosyncracies.

    I always endeavor to offer practical advice, so I hope this helps.

  • @Matthew Koren Super interesting. Thank you for sharing (and pointing me to Boyatzis' work!).

  • Part of the problem is that the single-dimensional categories and overly simplistic labels, particularly those provided without context, can do more damage than they provide in opportunities for understanding. In some toxic environments, these can even become very sharp tools of dysfunction, damaging productivity, trust, and employee engagement. Further, any behavioral predictor that does not provide for the changes in behavior that can come from self-awareness and ability to choose to "flex" outside your behavioral pattern is selling all humans short.

  • I think @Natalie Grogan hit the nail on the head. It is critical that, before taking a test, people understand why they are being assessed and how the results will be used. This is even a requirement mentioned in the American Psychological Association's Standards for Educational and Psychological Testing. The fact that people were oversimplifying the results with those labels and then using them to segregate the team shows that they had little guidance on what they were supposed to do, and in the absence of understanding, they do what people naturally do to cope with a complex world--they forced everyone into an easy mental model and left them in their buckets.

    But these labels and descriptions, when used properly, can achieve the desired effects. In social psychology theory, there is a notion that language is a critical (although not strictly necessary) tool for creating understanding. Without vocabulary, we have trouble understanding things. This strikes me as especially relevant to the task of understanding behavioral differences, but I never realized it until I worked in I/O psychology. I think I unconsciously understood that other people were experiencing the world differently from me, but I never put words to it, and I would sit through years of conflict or misunderstandings with people. When I took the PI Behavioral Assessment and started unpacking the complexity of behavioral drives with the vocabulary that PI uses, I suddenly understood why, for example, I never got along with a certain manager or why I was so exhausted in a role that required me to constantly interact with clients.

    So I think Natalie is correct--we can lay the groundwork for people so that they get to where they need to be. We can tell them upfront that they are going to use an assessment to gain the language they need to work together more effectively. They already know they are different (we don't need an assessment for that), so the assessment needs to help them understand how they are different.

  • Not sure if you use Predictive Index or not. A fabulous team work styles section of the software is very helpful on learning each others strengths/challenges with tips to use. I was a customer for 30 years and build strong businesses with it.

Sign In or Register to comment.