One of the first scientific attempts to describe personality was through phrenology (the measurement of bumps on the human skull), and physiognomy (assessing personality based on a person's outer appearances).
A different approach was introduced in the 19th century, based on the lexical hypothesis – the number of adjectives that described personality in the English dictionary. This approach has been refined several times. Through factor analyzing responses the pool of adjectives has over time been reduced severely – into first 7 common factors then 5. Many see the Big 5 (Ocean) as the definitive personality construct. As both a clinical tool and foundation for many commercially viable personality tests – it is seen as an effective and understandable way of describing differences and similarities in psychological make up.
The approach has even achieved a degree of notoriety by being used, some say to great effect, in an attempt to tailor effective political messages in recent US Presidential elections and during the vote on British EU exit (“Brexit”) in 2016.
In essence (individual) personality testing is:
- Focused on understanding individual character traits
- Deductive (based on theory)
- Aims to give insight and convey understanding
- Describes preferences
- Qualitative and in-depth
- Frequently requires a facilitator to digest, analyse, interpret and present conclusions.
Insights into individual personality constructs have come a long way. The concepts of “me” and “you” seem strong and give us an understanding of differences and similarities that in many ways also contribute to the understanding and complexities of working in a team.
The team is, however, much more than the sum of individual constructs. At their best, tests that aim to define and understand individual personality constructs can, of course, also be used to understand aspects of teamwork. Their starting point, historically and to this day, however, is very different. Using a deductive perspective, “Big Five” thinking, for instance, has given us excellent character profiling and an insightful, in-depth understanding of individual attitudes and behaviour, based on preferences.
Along with individual values, competencies and aspects connected with stress and drive, we end up with a large body of data that describes individual qualities, far beyond the range of, for example, an in-depth interview – however long it may be. The data most often requires a facilitator – to digest, analyse, interpret and present conclusions. Applying psychological data can, in other words, be cumbersome. The original starting point of this data also forces the facilitator to work even harder when he or she has to describe its meaning in a team context. In other words, how the characteristics that describe individuals affect the team as a whole. The analysis is seldom based on data that takes a unique combination, complementarity or empirically based observations of how groups actually work or which specific set of dynamics that contribute to the effectiveness of a group or the likelihood of its success.
- Complementarity makes a case for innovation,
- A specific set of behaviours that involve managing conflicts and performance make one for its effectiveness
- Longevity and happiness aligne with sufficiently aligned values and inter-relational orientation.
- Finally, the delicate balance of drive and ambition over stress and robustness make a strong case for whether or not one will make it across the finish line.
These are but a few, albeit essential, aspects of what constitutes group effectiveness. Coming up with hypotheses on these team aspects based on individual personality constructs, not only requires a lengthy analysis, but also a very skilled, experienced and at times imaginative facilitator – at its best a truly artistic performance that makes every single member of the team recognise themselves and each other, at worst “entertainment” without actionable conclusions.
A truly team-oriented focus will enable a group to benchmark its effectiveness, approach its development normatively and quantitatively, basing it on aspects that will increase its likelihood of success – and not on constructs that describe only single parts of a team or even worse parts that are irrelevant or unsubstantiated. We are, in other words, interested in a more efficient way of defining an effective team, identifying the main ingredients that characterise it – and by combining these, predicting its success.