07/15/2020 • 5 min read

Why Personality Profiles Matter for Distributed Teams

Understanding leads to better collaboration and leadership

by Ninette Kohler

Have you ever taken a personality test at work, school—or even just for fun? As social creatures, we’re driven to understand ourselves and each other. Knowing our fundamental similarities and differences can help us live and work better together.

There are many very different models that explain and categorize personalities. At Haworth, we work with the DiSC profile, which uses a non-judgmental assessment as a tool for discussion of people's behavioral differences.  

When I completed my first DiSC assessment, I was shocked by its accuracy and how much it revealed about my work personality. It has helped me understand how to improve my individual performance, collaborate more effectively, and become a better leader for my team.

But, when a global pandemic—and all the challenges that go along with it—hit, it changed everything about the way my team works together. Working remotely was not new to us, but suddenly our in-person collaborative options were gone. We were left without the ability to physically work together for an unknown period of time.

I turned to my DiSC profile and those of my team to see if they could help me cope with the new everyday challenges of leading a team that is not only working remotely, but feeling isolated—and spread across an entire continent.

I discovered two reasons why knowing about individual member’s personalities helps teams and leaders working remotely, especially when that is your only option:

1. You learn to understand and categorize your own reactions during stressful situations, including stay-home orders, quarantines, and travel bans.
The Harvard Business Review found that “when managers break down under pressure, so do their teams.” According to HBR’s latest research, 43% of all managers under stress are more angry and heated than cool and collected.

You can avoid passing your stress on to your team not only by understanding your main stressors, but also by visualizing what motivates you. Looking at my individual DiSC profile, two of my main stressors are “having my ideas or authority challenged” and “lacking control over situations.”  

A global pandemic that takes away all control and challenges every belief can probably be considered my ultimate opponent. Knowing that this situation might take me out of my comfort zone more than I’d like to admit helps me understand my behavior and also be kinder to myself. That doesn’t mean that I never overreact or get overheated—ask my coworkers—but it helps me identify red flags earlier and better handle stressful situations as they come.

On the other hand, I often find challenging tasks highly motivating.

My DiSC assessment tells me that I enjoy “working toward challenging goals” and “improving upon others’ ideas.”  As a marketing expert, I have been offered more challenging goals than I can think of by the coronavirus situation. Each day brings something new, and I try to look at every single task as being exactly the type of work I signed up for. I enjoy my work especially now—not despite the challenges, but because of them.

The amount of virtual collaboration in my daily worklife has also grown tremendously. Confirmed by my DiSC assessment, working on ideas together is something I enjoy—more so now than before the crisis. Today, I am embracing all the tools and resources we can leverage for our virtual collaboration, and I use them heavily. I must admit my collection of different video conferencing backgrounds is impressive, and I am told that my “gif game” is strong.

2. You learn how to lead your team with respect to their individual coping mechanisms.
According to the Washington Post, people with certain psychological characteristics are more vulnerable than others to the effects of staying at home for prolonged periods of time. Also, what works best for one personality type might not be helpful to another. This is exactly where understanding the personality profiles of your team members becomes valuable.

Looking at the personalities of the individuals on your team can tell you how they are coping with stay-home directives and what support they might need. Working from home can be a dream come true for some and a challenge for others.

One of my team members is a strong “C” within the DiSC profile model. The C is defined by Conscientiousness, and it means this person “places emphasis on quality and accuracy, expertise, and competency.” These “Cs” love the details and struggle with putting energy into social events and celebrations. Knowing this allows me to support this team member by sending an agenda for every conference call and making sure that they prioritize social events, especially now that they’re virtual.

Some people might need more connection and 1-on-1 meetings. Others will need less contact because they feel comfortable working in isolation and can perform their best that way. Knowing what triggers your coworkers or motivates them will tremendously change the way you design your team collaboration. It helps you to accept when necessary, push where needed, and support when it’s helpful—and to ask the same of your coworkers.

Personality profiles can help teams and leaders, because they provide an explanation for behavior. But they should never be used as an excuse. They shouldn’t be a reason not to engage, develop, or improve.

We know from our research that happiness promotes well-being, thus improving engagement and performance at work. The Truity blog reported that studies have shown healthy interaction with others boosts happiness for both extraverts and introverts. The challenge lies in bringing members of your team who are more introverted by nature on board and ensuring the extraverts are actively helping them feel comfortable.

Changing behavior is always possible and can impact personal well-being. In a recent study published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology, participants were asked to act in a certain way for a short period of time despite their “personal nature.” The results indicated that participants’ well-being improved when they were assigned to act extraverted and declined when they were assigned to act introverted.

As a leader, I am curious to see if I can incorporate that insight into one or two virtual team events. It’s not a matter of forcing team members to become someone they’re not—but encouraging everyone’s participation, inviting them into the group, and enhancing our human connection. I have some ideas and I can’t wait to see the results.


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