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 https://www.16personalities.com/free-personality-test. 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.

 

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I enjoyed the spotlight that this book puts on hopefulness, and the rallying cry to hold tight to it, even in the face of a society with increasing cynicism and its accompanying peril to the health of the individual human soul.  Many people may believe that people are not inherently good—but a society and democracy are doomed to fail if a prevalence of this type of thinking takes hold.  Can we do good and choose correctly or must we be guided (i.e. coerced)?  Must morality be legislated?  Some people hold to these cynical beliefs, and at times they are easier to accept, but we should resist.  Riemen believes that the ideals of classical humanitarianism can guard against cynicism and restore Western civilization’s highest values.  I agree with this but think that we need to accept change and loosen our hold on the past somewhat.  We need new “classical” ideals that will change the dynamic, shift the paradigm, and point us in a new, and even better, direction, encompassing the past but forging them into a new creation and a new future.  The humanities and arts can inform a society of hopefulness and we should look to the past for many of these ideals but, more importantly we should foster environments in which the classical humanities can be a living thing that continues its lineage into the future.  Evolution is a must.  As the French say: plus cest change, plus cest la meme chose.

I also like that Riemen has related a healthy society to the health of the individual and, in turn related the health of the individual to the state of their dignity.  Riemen says that “Personal ethics are more important than social institutions.” Individuals’ happiness is more important than social commitment; because a healthy society is based on healthy individuals.  Value the individual, because society depends on it.  Riemen also says that “…what this world needs above all else, a social order that would safeguard human dignity…” and that is what we should strive for in our lives and our influence on others.

American society and business today does indeed suffer from some of the problems that Riemen identifies.  The power of money, and the multitude of things it can represent, has crowded out inner growth.  We also often hear on the news “democracy” referred to as the justification for a policy, but no mention of what this really means or what democracy entails.  Riemen says that “Politicized minds do not see concrete individuals who are alive, who love, and who are loved.  All they see are abstractions: capitalism, communism, globalization…” and laments that “Morality is replaced by a doctrine of virtue.”   Yes, we also see this in modern society, of ten in the form of legislation of morality. We indeed are losing our humanity and some of it has to do with us losing our roots, our connection to nature, I believe.  The humanist view of the necessity of personal freedom and dignity vs. the view of the necessity of a powerful state to save people from their own evil devices is an argument that continues even today. 

As human nature is twofold, we must respect and develop the twofold nature of the individuals whom we lead and who work with and for us.  The physical body is the most obvious and we have arguably done a good job at tending to that.  The soul, the nobility of spirit—“…life as the art of becoming human through the cultivation of the human soul.” per the book—is what is often missing.  The goals of business must include people and individuals.  We must also be more interested in substance than appearance.  It is easy to look at the appearances of our friends and coworkers, a nice car and house, etc. and assume that they are doing well.  However, it is the things that are not seen that are often overlooked and are the underlying importance.   Riemen says that the poet teaches us true freedom.  “Without that ultimate vivification—which the poet and other artists alone can give—reality would seem incomplete and science, democracy, and life itself finally in vain.”  “…facts are good for scholars, but we must write the truth!”  I’ve always tried to live my life as an art form and this ideal in the book spoke to me and I believe should be applied in business as in life.  Goethe said that “Civilization is a permanent exercise in respect.  Respect for the divine, the earth, for our fellow man and so for our own dignity.”  For the sake of our own souls and of those that we are connected to we must resist the seductiveness of power and bad faith lest it damage our nobility of spirit.  If we’re not faithful to our individuality and allow others to be faithful to theirs we also risk our souls, for as Riemen states “…being one of the herd languishes one’s soul away.”  We must respect and nourish the twofold nature of humanity in both ourselves and those around us. 

Another idea that resonated with me in this book is: “…the past is not closed, it receives meaning from our present actions.” Shamans have historically said the same thing; quantum physics is now beginning to say the same thing: everything is connected and influences everything else, even across time and barriers to influence that we once thought existed we are now seeing as not a barrier at all.  This thought can be a wellspring of hope for us humans even in the midst of failures and shortcomings!

To my fellow classmates, I would like to point out the passage in the book that proclaims that “Thoughtful conversation is the best way to examine life and make it worth living.” We can achieve some soul growth and nobility of spirit and meaning of life through thoughtful, felt and authentic conversation.  I invite all classmates to be human personalities attempting to come to grips with eternal problems posed by the moral, social, and political conflicts of our time.  “Without the freedom to think differently, speak differently, be different, have differences of opinion—without these freedoms, all other values are defenseless.  And whatever one might think of the capitalist West, these freedoms are back again.  Right here.”  So resist the urge to hold back or to say what is thought to be expected of you and instead let your true feelings and thoughts be released into the world.  You never know what good may come of it. 

References:

Riemen, R. (2008). Nobility of spirit: a forgotten ideal. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press

Stop Stealing Dreams

A great read and a TEDx video, by Seth Godin, about how the industrial revolution is over and some thoughts on how the education system should change accordingly.

Memory and media

Not too many millenia ago, just about everything we remembered happened to us. In real life.

Books and then radio and TV changed that. Orson Welles demonstrated that a radio drama could create feelings (and then memories of those feelings) that were as powerful to some as the real thing.

Eleven years ago, we all experienced an event of such enormity that it still haunts us. Some escaped, some saw it out their office window while others watched on TV.

Just a decade later, we’re far more likely to both celebrate and generate our memories in 140 character bursts, or in short updates or in a ‘breaking news’ email. The short version amplifies our other memories. Neil Armstrong’s death shook us not because we knew him, but because we remember watching him on TV… The blip of information alone was sufficient to give us pause.

A few generations ago, the only music most people heard was music we heard in person. Today, the most famous (and in some ways, important) people in our lives are people we will never meet.

As we continually replace real life with ever shorter digital updates, what happens to the memories we build for ourselves and the people we serve? More and more, we don’t remember what actually happened to us, but what we’ve encountered digitally. It scales, but does it matter in the same way?

Memory and Media

Background    

Chattanooga Ice Cream was a division of Chattanooga Food Products and had a reputation for producing mid-priced, basic ice cream sold mainly in grocery stores. In the four years prior to the Case Study, the Ice Cream Division had experienced some rather drastic changes. Charles Moore, who was the grandson of the founder, took over as new President and General Manager. As well, three of the seven members of the top management team had recently departed and, in a drastic change for production personnel, the oldest plant was closed and production was consolidated into two newer plants.

Roots of the Problem    

Each of these changes seems to have placed some stress on the system and climate of the company and, at the time of the Case Study, the company’s previous level of profitability and market performance had not yet returned. Exhibit 3 showed, graphically, that the bottom line (operating profit) was dropping more steeply than the top line (sales revenue). They appeared to be becoming less efficient as well as less effective. These recent changes the company had been experiencing, especially the recent management team and leadership turnover, were root causes of many of the company’s problems that were outlined in the case study. The team appeared to have not quite reached a point of comfort, trust and effective teamwork with each other and, although the recent loss of a large grocery store account was presented as the main problem in the Case Study, the loss of the account was a symptom and not the cause of the problem, the management team’s response, lack of teamwork and shortsightedness was. The immediate crisis may have been precipitated by the loss of the account, but it was exacerbated by the management team’s reaction, and was merely a symptom of a larger problem. Ups and downs always occur and accounts are gained and lost, that is normal in the life of a business; the management team’s inter-departmental bickering and finger-pointing was not normal and was indicative of an unhealthy environment. Each of the management team members seemed to be committing the fundamental attribution error in thinking that the blame for the loss of the account lay in departments other than their own, and needed to be corrected there, rather than taking a good, close look at their own department and seeing what could be improved there. As well, in the management meeting, negative emotions were involved to the detriment of professionalism and, consequently, there was a profound lack of looking at the big picture and not much chance for real teamwork.

The new leader, Moore, had a very different leadership style from his predecessor. This may have disrupted long-standing relationships and affected command and control structures as well as communication channels in the company. Moore came from a process of group decision-making at his previous job with National Geographic, whereas his predecessor made self-contained decisions, without consulting others much. As it turned out, Moore’s new, consensus style of leadership did not work well, in part, because the departmental managers seemed to be down in their own functional silos and reluctant to offer much input beyond the borders of their own departments. Contrastingly, however, in private, they often spoke ill of their colleagues and laid blame for the company’s problems on others without much introspection of their own departments. Further exacerbating things, the high turnover of the managers and the closing of the older plant seemed to have contributed to morale problems from the top managers down to the general production workforce.

Recommendations

All of the players in the Case Study seemed to be acting as managers, and attempting to do things right (within their own silos) rather than zooming out to the big picture, being leaders and doing the right thing. Moore seemed to be acting more as a manager and attempting to do things right (being egalitarian and leading through consensus) but, more than anyone, really needed to take charge, look at the big picture, make some leadership decisions and do the right thing in moving the company forward. I believe that, in general, action is better than non-action and this company needed some action. Moore should have abandoned the consensus process of leadership he was used to once he saw that it would not work in the context he now found himself in. He needed to make some decisions to keep the company moving forward and needed to figure out a way to get the management team to gel into a real team, whether that meant replacing people or finding ways to foster trust among the present team.

Contracting, after the loss of the large account, would probably not be the right decision. They may just need to spend some money to make more money and brace themselves for a period of investment activity and change of direction. They may be wise to retool with some investments in new markets, perhaps need to look at giving in to what seems to be a trend of paying for shelf space, and may be wise to make the investment necessary for production of mix-in flavors. Contraction, specifically cutting out chocolate chip, as suggested by the Vice President of Production, could have negative consequences for the company’s image and the perception of the clients. They need to revamp their image and perception in the marketplace and that means spending. They should brace for some unprofitable years of investment activity for the good of the long-term picture.

Bob Sutton has a good post this morning on the Harvard Business Review about this topic.

12 Things Good Bosses Believe