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By Shawn Bakker

The MBTI ® assessment can help teams solve problems more effectively because it gives each team member a clearer understanding of two key things. First, looking at the Sensing and Intuition preferences will show team members how they take in and present information. Second, focusing on the Thinking and Feeling preferences will clarify how they make decisions with that information.

You probably wouldn’t be surprised to hear that research indicates that teams composed of people with similar preferences usually make quicker decisions. This is because everyone gathers information and evaluates it in similar ways – a recipe for agreement. The downside of this speed is that the absence of opposing preferences can result in poor decision making. The challenge for homogeneous teams is to make sure that the opposing preferences are taken into account.

Teams composed of members with a variety of type preferences have a different challenge – getting people with different ways of taking in information and making decisions to solve problems together without conflict and misunderstanding. This often requires developing an appreciation for what people with opposing preferences do when solving problems.

To help teams with both of these challenges you can use a problem solving model developed by Isabel Briggs Myers. This model for good problem solving involves four steps which incorporate both ways for gathering information (S-N) and for making decisions (T-F).

Step One: Gather the Facts
With the use of the Sensing preference gather the relevant details of the problem you are facing.

Step Two: Brainstorm Possibilities
With the use of the Intuition preference identify possible causes of the problem and develop potential solutions.

Step Three: Analyze Objectively
Use the Thinking preference to consider the cause and effect of each potential solution.

Step Four: Weigh the Impact
Use the Feeling preference to consider how the people involved will be affected by the proposed solutions.

For each team member this problem solving approach will utilize two of their preferences and require them to utilize two of their least preferred functions. For some team members, using their least preferred functions will be a manageable challenge. For others, it will be important to work with colleagues who have opposing preferences when making important decisions in order to take advantage of their expertise.

If you are working with a team that is overloaded with certain types ask them how they can make use of the preferences that are missing. For example, if most team members prefer Sensing, what can they do to make sure that they use Intuition to make interpretations and develop possibilities? They might need to set aside a time to brainstorm possibilities or give the minority Intuitive members the floor.

No matter what the teams make up, a helpful way to have a team focus on each of the four steps is to set up four stations. At each station have a piece of paper with the following headings:

What are the facts?

What are the possibilities?

What are the pros and cons of each solution?

What is the impact on our people/organization for each solution?

Get the team to identify a problem or issue that they have been struggling with lately. Then have the team list the relevant details at each station for a set amount of time (15 minutes for example). When they are finished you can debrief the group by asking about any scarcity of information that relates to missing preferences; having the team focus on their common blind spots; and generating ideas on how to incorporate different points of view.

For more facilitation questions that you can use to help teams with problem solving I recommend Introduction to Type in Organizations. It has a section on the decision-making process including a number of questions that you can have teams answer to make sure they are covering all the bases.

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