The Power of Personality Type Preferences in Teams

The personality type of individuals and personality type of their teams impacts how individuals work together within team settings.

Are you part of a team, a group of people who work together to achieve a common goal? For most of us, the answer will be ‘yes’. Indeed, many of us are in practice a member of several different workplace teams, including project teams, functional teams and so on.


Teams are an essential part of working life; in recent research by the careers site Zippia, more than 50 percent of workers in the United States said that their jobs were reliant on collaborating, and three-quarters rated teamwork and collaboration as being very important. But of course, this doesn’t mean that just putting people together in a team will result in everything going smoothly. Each team member is an individual, with their own personality, their particular likes and dislikes, and their preferred way of working.

In many ways, this is a good thing; more diverse teams have been shown to be more innovative, with the potential to perform better than more homogenous teams. But where there are different personalities, there can also be differences of opinion, misunderstandings, and conflict.

Myers-Briggs findings on different personality types within teams

Earlier this year my organization, The Myers-Briggs Company, carried out two studies to investigate the implications of different personality types within teams, with the intention of using the findings to come up with practical recommendations for organizations, team leaders, and HR and learning and development specialists. In our research we used the Myers-Briggs (MBTI®) personality framework. This takes in four aspects of personality, each looking at your preference to do things in one way or another way. For each of the areas outlined below, take a moment to think about where your preference is:

  • Are you more energized by and do you focus more on the outer world of people and experiences (Extraversion, E), or the inner world of reflections and thoughts (Introversion, I)? You can do both – but where is your preference?
  • Do you prefer solid, real information coming from your five senses (Sensing, S) or information about the big picture, possibilities and connections (Intuition, N)?
  • Do you prefer to make decisions of the basis of objective logic (Thinking, T) or on the basis of your values and how people will be affected (Feeling, F)?
  • Do you prefer to live your life in a planned and organized manner (Judging, J) or in a spontaneous and adaptable way (Perceiving, P)?

For each of these, you will prefer one side of the other So you will have a preference for either E or for I, for either S or for N, for either T or for F, and for either J or for P. The four letters combine to give one of 16 types, so you may hear people say things like “I’ve got ESTJ preferences”.

Myers-Briggs study one

In the first study, 883 people who already knew their MBTI type preferences completed an anonymous online survey asking them for their views on working in their teams, including how well their team was performing and how they saw the personality of the team as a whole. Though most teams were seen as performing well, people whose personality type was entirely different from that of the overall team had the least positive view of the team’s performance.

This was especially so for people who differed from the team in terms of two aspects of the MBTI framework, Sensing-Intuition and Thinking-Feeling. Maybe this isn’t surprising. Sensing-Intuition looks at how you take in information, and Thinking-Feeling at how you make decisions. The combination of both describes how you prefer to solve problems, so people who thought problems should be solved differently to how the team actually tended to do this had a less positive view of the team’s performance. All of this points up the importance of two factors. First, understanding how other people differ from you, and that this difference can be positive; your way of solving problems is not the only way, and not necessarily the best. Second, the role of the team leader in maintaining cohesion and ensuring that individual views are heard. Most respondents did see their team leader as performing effectively; however, when asked “what is the worst thing about being in this team, 13% mentioned poor leadership; this was the most common single answer to this question. It is important that team leaders have adequate training so that they can support team members and help these to feel included, stay connected with all the team, help them to collaborate and be inclusive, and regularly check in with them. In my view, having a framework for understanding the personality preferences of others is an important part of this.

Myers-Briggs study two

The second study used data from 13,453 people who completed an MBTI® assessment as part of MBTIonline Teams. This platform allows teams to go through a self-guided online team-building experience, but also asks people (confidentially and anonymously) to record data such as job satisfaction to be used for future research purposes. Most participants had a high level of job satisfaction and were not thinking of leaving their job within the next year, but  members of larger teams, with more than 12 people, had lower levels of job satisfaction and were more likely to be thinking of leaving. It isn’t a surprise that the larger the team, the less attention that people get from the team leader and the lower their job satisfaction – but this is something that organizations sometimes forget.

The findings

The two studies had different participants and mainly asked different questions. However, there was one finding in common. People whose personality type matched that of the team had a higher level of job satisfaction. And job satisfaction in turn showed a strong relationship with team performance and with staying in one’s job. Any actions that enhance job satisfaction are likely to enhance performance and reduce turnover.

Being aware of personality differences is important. Across both studies, the data revealed several interactions between the personality type of individuals and personality type of their teams. This shows that team building and team development programs must take into account both the personality of the individual but also the context and personality of the team in which they work.

John Hackston
John Hackston is a chartered psychologist and Head of Thought Leadership at The Myers-Briggs Company where he leads the company’s Oxford-based research team. He is a frequent commentator on the effects of personality type on work and life, and has authored numerous studies, published papers in peer-reviewed journals, presented at conferences for organizations such as The British Association for Psychological Type, and has written on various type-related subjects in top outlets such as Harvard Business Review.