The people you work with are people you were just thrown together with. You don't know them; it wasn't your choice. And yet, you spend more time with them than you do your friends or your family. But probably, all you have in common is the fact that you walk around on the same bit of carpet for eight hours a day.
– Tim, The Office.
Your office might not be as dysfunctional as David Brent’s, but that doesn’t mean your team isn’t made up of an equally varied bunch of individuals.
The key to a successful office - one that motivates outstandingly collaborative employees - lies with how you manage the people (and personalities) who work within it.
Every individual is well, individual. Disparate personalities in the workplace are the biggest test to your office environment. Your team members will react to certain situations, certain job roles, and even certain other people, in very different ways.
Where pushing Alice to take on more responsibility might allow her the freedom to drive great business results, it might cause Ajay to hide away from that forced opportunity and instead, fail to live up to expectations.
Personalities in the workplace, depending on the way you handle them, have the power to make or break a team or even a business.
The Big Five
The Big Five personality traits are a well-established model in psychology.
They don’t necessarily pin down the kaleidoscope of variables that make up your employees’ personalities in the workplace, but they do give you a useful framework for thought about the tendencies, strengths and weaknesses of each member of your team.
By not only observing your team but also talking to them one-on-one about how they see themselves, you can identify certain traits and more easily nurture an environment where those traits can thrive.
1. Openness to experience
Do your employees naturally seek variety in their day-to-day work? Do they work most effectively when they are in a more rigidly scheduled routine?
As well as displaying receptiveness to new tasks, employees with this trait also tend to be more intellectually curious and creatively minded.
Sounds good, but there is a downside: employees with high openness can be less focused, may find it hard to work on repetitive tasks and may even be too prone to taking unacceptable risks in your business.
Such employees are likely to benefit when given the variety they crave, while still having close management as a guide to keep them focused.
Some employees who are too closed-minded can lack creativity, and can be unproductive when forced to keep changing tasks.
However, don’t punish your more cautious employees. Opposites of the word ‘open’ have negative associations, but - when it comes to people - you need to put those preconceived ideas aside.
If you allow more cautious individuals to act as the voice of reason, they can save businesses from taking unnecessary risks.
People with this personality trait tend to thrive in structured work that requires careful attention to detail and a repeated series of complex tasks, and can prove a real asset.
How organised are your team members?
Employees with this trait tend to be more reliably disciplined, not only planning their own work, but also fulfilling those plans.
They might shrink from a more free-flowing job role, and tend towards more stubborn behaviour, but with the opportunity to organise their work they are likely to achieve a high level of efficiency.
Flexible people often follow a less rigidly organised structure and as a result, risk becoming disorganised. This very fact, however, means they are better able to cope when their expectations of a role don’t match the reality. They can adapt quickly to their changing day-to-day without stress.
Are your colleagues talkative and outgoing, or more solitary and reserved?
Because people with high extraversion tend towards more outgoing, sociable activities, they are very well suited to team projects.
These co-workers are the ones who will provide energy and drive communication during collaboration; however they can also tend towards attention-seeking behaviour, which can overwhelm those around them.
At the other extreme, more introverted colleagues will be much more reserved, thinking things through internally and less likely to engage in large group conversations. This allows them to excel at work which involves working alone without disrupting those around them.
But, without being prompted to share, these employees can seem disconnected and self-absorbed, creating harmful divisions in the office.
In team projects especially, you need to give these team-members the opportunity to share their thoughts since their considered approach often yields valuable insights.
To what extent do your employees work together with their colleagues?
These people are more likely to work cooperatively with their team members, foster more trust and present a helpful attitude.
Taken to an extreme, however, these individuals can become too submissive to those around them, creating an imbalance in the team that managers need to watch for.
The more analytical members of your team will likely tend towards clashes with other team members.
Importantly however, they are also more likely to challenge those around them and their competitive nature can drive positive results in their colleagues.
How emotionally stable do your team members seem?Sensitive
Sensitive employees tend to experience the more extreme spectrums of human emotion and are likely to be more reactive and in tune with those of a similar disposition.
These employees will also display more excitement about tasks they enjoy, inspiring the same reaction in their colleagues.
Employees who display a high level of emotional stability can be a very reassuring presence in your office, maintaining consistent, predictable reactions.
This can make these team members harder to read and can even make them seem uninspired by their role, but it simply means they can keep a level head when faced with something new or unexpected.
How can you judge personalities in the workplace?
Knowing your employees’ preferences and traits is an essential step towards becoming a better leader.
One way to analyse your employee’s behaviours, and use them to inform your strategies for managing them, is through personality testing.
This method, however, is controversial and you should take the results with a pinch of salt. And, since they give only a rough sketch of a person in the moment (and not their potential for development and growth) you should never base big decisions about your employees’ futures solely on such tests.
The only way to know how an individual is enjoying their role and environment is to ask. That’s why, more than any trait in your business, you should encourage and reward honesty. Without it, your employees will remain a mystery.
Accommodate different personalities in the workplace
Once you’ve assessed your employees, you can begin to use that information in your management and leadership style.
Observe your colleagues. Identify the tasks individuals excel at. Accept that failures might be a result of mismanagement of an individual’s personality, as much as they are a result of the individual. Take all of this information, and make changes accordingly.
Do so, and you’ll have created a working environment that allows individuals to flourish, teams to collaborate and personalities to complement each other’s strengths to forge a successful, happy business.
(Updated by Callum Sharp on December 14th, 2018)