Personalities in a Team Environment

The relative success of a building construction project is often determined by the ability of the design team, owner, and contractors to effectively communicate ideas and resolve conflicts. This is true for practically any other type of endeavor that we humans venture into as teams.  Architects, engineers, and construction professionals form a special part of the team that is critical to the success of the building project. Each of the participants in the process is typically driven by slightly different interests, and have their own particular set of overlapping goals. This is the classical challenge that most people who have worked in teams are familiar with. People with years of experience working in these environments will likely have many stories of success, and perhaps also of failure in their endeavors that involve being part of a team. Part of what makes these projects difficult to execute, is a problem that everyone is faced with in their day-to-day lives: personality differences—we each see the same world in different ways. Different types of people (i.e. personalities) are needed for the many tasks associated with the successful design and construction of a building structure and one of the beauties of humanity is that we rely on different types of people to successfully achieve monumental tasks that any single person would be incapable of doing on their own.  Synergy is created by the complementary effects of different people.  This article will provide a brief overview of personality types with a focus on key players in the construction industry, and some tips for working with others to achieve success.

Although concrete definitions of the term vary, this definition captures the idea well: “Personality is the unique organization of thoughts, feelings, and behavior combined distinctly in each person that defines and determines the person’s pattern of interaction with the environment” [1]. Each person has a unique personality that is composed of traits that may be common with others. You may have heard of the Myers-Briggs personality classification technique. It is a technique, based on Carl Jung’s work, that involves identifying traits that are shared among different groups of personality types and classifying the personality types accordingly. The categories that have been developed cover a large array of human personalities, and can be eerily on-target when it comes to how we behave. There is no best personality type to complete any task at hand, and the complex nature of a complete construction process requires the involvement of many personality types for success. Each type of person will respond differently to different forms of communication, decision making, and motivation. Understanding the personality of the members in your team can help to improve communication and productivity, foster creativity, and generally help the outcome of a project and the experience for the people involved.

Engineers have had many stereotypes throughout the years, most of which you will be familiar with: quiet, busy, intellectual, reclusive… Many engineers’ personality is a type known in Myers-Briggs terminology as INTP. This stands for Introversion Intuitive Thinking and Perceiving. This personality type is often referred to as ‘The Logician’ and some famous people who were INTPs include Albert Einstein and Abraham Lincoln.  INTP people are usually associated with being logical, inventive, intellectual, analytical, and complex thinkers [2]. Some less obvious traits are that they are usually laid-back, flexible, and handle critique well. This personality type is akin to working alone and developing solutions autonomously. Although many engineers are close to the INTP type, the overall population is composed of less than 3% INTPs. This type of personality is usually not socially adept, hence the Introversion trait. They may have a hard time making their presence known, and demonstrating the importance of their needs and decisions when working as part of a team.

Architects share many traits with engineers; they most commonly share the Intuitive, and Thinking traits. This alludes to the intimate, but oftentimes complex, relationships that structural engineers and architects commonly share. In the synopsis of a survey of many high performance architects, it was found that most managers of successful architecture firms, had a personality type of ENTJ (Extroverted Intuitive Thinking, and Judging) [3]. This personality type is often referred to as ‘The Commander’ and some famous people who were ENTJs include Bill Gates and Margaret Thatcher.  Although there are some common traits with INTPs, ENTJs will often demonstrate leadership qualities that drive teams to success through promoting hard work and instilling key directives. They tend to be outspoken about their needs and use their candor as a way to get the job done. The Judging trait plays a large role in how an ENTJ will make decisions and stick to plans. Part of this quality is the need to make plans early and stick with them to accomplish goals. Sometimes the decisions and plans made early on can be very rigid and may make ENTJs seem less flexible; however their Intuitive and Thinking traits provide that most are good at taking criticism.

Construction managers are critical to the successful implementation of any construction job. The architects and engineers would be nothing more than artists and mathematicians if the outcome of their work did not materialize into the built environment. The construction team will ultimately be the ones who bring the design from an idea to an actuality. People who find themselves in this role often share some common traits that undoubtedly contribute to their success. ESTJ is the personality type that is often associated with successful construction managers. The acronym stands for Extraversion Sensing Thinking and Judging. This personality type is often referred to as ‘The Executive’ and some famous people who were ESTJs include George W. Bush and Lyndon B. Johnson.  These type of people are known for their organized, even methodical, approach to life and to work. They have a strong work ethic that is both grounded and practical. ESTJs are often referred to as born-leaders because they have an uncanny knack for directing people to achieve success. People who work with ESTJ’s may note that they have great follow through and that they always want to be right. Their common-sense approach to conflicts is crucial to their ability to successfully lead projects that are complex.

In conclusion, people exhibit a wide array of personality traits that make them unique. It is these traits that create patterns of interaction with their environment including other people. A successful design team is one that works together to deliver the end product according to the requirements and specifications of the owner, as well as the legal requirements of their jurisdiction. Architects, Engineers, and Contractors—each often tends toward particular personality types which can add complexity to an already difficult task. Communication between different types of people often requires a holistic approach that takes advantage of each individual’s strengths, while deferring weakness to others—thus allowing the synergy to happen. It is all-too common for an adversarial relationship to develop amongst the design team wherein each individual acts only on behalf of their own best interest. We have made a short list of ways that team members can mitigate conflict, increase productivity, and encourage that each party brings their best traits to the forefront of the team environment. These lists are particularly useful to the project manager, but all team members can benefit from taking a more proactive approach to teamwork.

  1. Recognize and verbally acknowledge each team member’s needs, concerns, and issues. Write a list of each party’s needs, compare them to your own, identify differences and similarities. It can be useful to map out all of the needs of each party and identify the issues which may benefit from your own personality traits and skills. You might be surprised to find that solutions outside of your field that may seem like common sense are overlooked; speak up and you may be able to contribute doubly to a project by having a great idea about an issue that another team member is experiencing.
  2. Remember that all people are unique individuals, but certain personalities tend toward understanding information differently. Try to identify the types of people you are working with on a project and tailor your information to suit their particular way of learning. You may learn that the engineer responds best to graphical information, while the contractor responds well to lists. If this is the case, you may consider putting together updates in a way that caters to both visual and list-based learners. This will improve comprehension, and strengthen the communication of your message to team members.
  3. Don’t let differences with your team members bring you down. Some tasks are performed very well by all like-minded individuals, but the majority of projects require the skills of many types of people. It is generally best to not only identify the differences amongst others, but to harness each individual’s strengths to counterbalance any potential weakness. If one of your team members has a knack for thinking outside the box, but tends to be behind on deadlines, adopt a strategy to involve this person early and hold them accountable for intermediate progress updates. Doing this will allow your team to benefit from good ideas during the conceptual planning phase, and have a good handle on the status of the project as the timeline progresses.
  4. Find common ground. The initial team formation experience can be radically different for each type of personality. While engineers may be most interested in the complex issues to overcome, the architect may be more concerned with achieving the owner’s dream, and the contractor with scheduling and cost. In an early project planning stage, each member of the design team may be using project resources in their own preferred way, but by the end of the project you might find that many of the early efforts were wasted because of lack of common ground leading to changes, etc. To combat this, it is often advisable to look back at the personality types of the typical design team and focus on the similarities. Use the common ground as a platform to initiate a focused team effort that capitalizes on the strengths of its players, and shores-up the weaknesses.

A great place to start is by reflecting on your own personality type and doing some research about how different people communicate best. You can take a quick test to determine your type and learn more about the other major types here at Agree or disagree with your tested personality type? Post a comment or send me an email with your type and your conclusions.

By Paul Waite, MS, EI

[1] P. Dr. Alan Atalah PhD, “The Personality Traits of Construction Management Professionals,” Bowling Green State University, Bowling Green, Ohio.
[2] Personality Max, “INTP Personality Type- The Engineer”.
[3] A. K. Hurley, “A Difficult Character,” Architect – The Journal of the AMerican Institute of Architects.