Helix Culture

Do Personality Tests Really Hold The Key To Office Harmony?

June 5, 2023 8:30 AM

In the corporate world's endless pursuit of perfect synergy, managers have gone down some strange paths (mandatory trust falls, anyone?). The most enduring of these attempts, though, involve personality tests like the Enneagram, the Myers Briggs Type Indicator, and others. But does knowing your team is mostly made up of ENFPs and Type 7s actually contribute to a more harmonious office?

Let's dive in.

The Rise of The Personality Tests

It all began in the early 20th century with the birth of the Myers Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI). Inspired by Carl Jung's theories, Katharine Briggs and Isabel Myers developed this test to categorize people into 16 distinct personality types. (Briggs and Myers were a mother-daughter duo, with zero psychological background, btw.) As of 2022, up to 80% of Fortune 500 companies use the MBTI for team-building and hiring decisions.

Then comes the Enneagram.

The Enneagram is an intricate map of human personality divided into nine types. It's been the talk of Silicon Valley and other hubs of corporate genius, with executives and engineers alike donning their type as a badge of honor (or shame— depending on who you ask).

But the Enneagram has an interesting twist that reaches beyond corporate offices; the system is rumored to be biblical. You can wander down that rabbit hole on your own, but we’ll give you the gate to the abyss right here. 

The Science Behind The Tests

So, do these tests have a scientific leg to stand on? Well, the waters are murkier than a puddle in a New York alleyway. While both tests have a base in psychological theories, their predictive and scientific validity has been questioned. The Enneagram, while offering deeper insight into emotional and mental patterns, lacks substantial empirical research backing its effectiveness in the corporate context. And any reputable scientific journal proudly claims that there is little to no science that supports the idea that the MBTI is effective either. 

The Actual Impact on Teams

Okay, let's be real: the science is a bit shaky, at best. But that doesn't necessarily mean these tests are without merit, right?

Well… it's complicated.

There's no denying that understanding team members on a deeper level can promote empathy, tolerance, and effective communication. It's also true that the shared vocabulary these tests provide can be a shortcut to better understanding others.

However, there's a danger of oversimplification and stereotyping. After all, humans are complex beings who can't be neatly boxed into a set number of categories. Relying too heavily on these tests can limit our understanding of our colleagues and foster a narrow view of their capabilities.

The Bottom Line

In the grand scheme of things, personality tests are just one of many tools in the arsenal of team-building strategies. They are not silver bullets for office harmony but can provide a useful starting point for dialogue and understanding. The trick lies in using them judiciously, balancing their insights with a nuanced view of individual complexities.

It can be helpful to know personality types, especially in a leadership position. Understanding that your HR manager is an Enneagram type 9 can be useful. For instance, type 9s are known to be the “peacemakers”, and will often hold their tongues. Then later, many type 9s will explode when they just can’t take it anymore.

Is Julie a monster for lashing out at her payroll gal for dropping the ball again? Or did Julie not express herself the way she really wanted to the first time it happened? You get where we’re going with this. Are these systems helpful for understanding your team? Yes. Can they serve as a catalyst in the way your office functions overall? Maybe. 

Personality profiles can guide behavior only if they are at the forefront of every interaction and intention — which takes work. If colleagues take the time to remember what personality type their coworkers are before speaking to them, asking for things, having hard conversations, then it might stick. But that is a whole system in and of itself that takes effort and time. 

However, if leadership is committed to intertwining these personality systems into daily office culture, the payoff could be measurable. These systems give others a great idea of who a person is as a whole and their strengths and weaknesses. Personality systems also create a fantastic rolodex of shared vocabulary to express and to be understood. 

That part of the whole shi-bang feels priceless. But it takes work. 

Where Complexity Meets Creativity

We here at Helix House know a thing or two about navigating complexity. We're an eclectic mix of creatives, strategists, analysts, and more—all working together to meet any digital marketing need.

We don't claim to have cracked the code of perfect team harmony (because let's face it, who has?), but we sure know how to leverage our unique personalities to create compelling solutions for our clients. So, whether you're an INFJ or a Type 4, there's a place for you in our house of creativity. Got a project you need our help with? We welcome all personality types to connect.