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.

 

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

Article from the California Management Review; Winter 2000; 42, 2

Important characteristics of effective team leaders:

  • Communication: both intra-personal and inter-personal as well as intra-organization and extra-organizational. A clear communication of expectations to team members, and a facilitation of communication between group members as well as outside the team. An information-rich environment is essential.
  • Responsibility: Set goals, guide members, share burden; but be a coach and mentor not an autocrat.
  • Autonomy: the team leader needs high levels of autonomy as well as do the team members. It is necessary that all involved be committed and interested. Team members need to come to “own” the process. The team leader should be a coach, who guides people and points them in the right direction; who empowers team members.
  • Involvement: for all team members and stakeholders across all stages of a project; this helps to guard against functional silos.
  • Balance: of technical and human issues. The human issues are often overlooked but are at least as important as the technical issues.

Effective leadership is “easier said than done” and there is often a falling into the knowing-doing gap. One’s guard needs to be up against letting talk substitute for action. Knowing some characteristics of effective leadership does not produce effective leadership. A transformation of the leader’s thinking, learning and doing (and the concomitant transformation that happens with the team members) is the path to effective leadership.

Many of us have been in team situations where cross-functional teams fall into functional silos in disparate thought worlds. Many problems develop from one team making decisions that make micro sense in the context of their own team but make macro nonsense when viewed from the big picture or even from the viewpoint of other teams. Workflows and activities tend to be disorganized and uncoordinated for the big picture. Keeping in mind the big picture view and losing turf-battleground mentalities and fostering collaborative decision making can help guard against functional silos.

From Bob Sutton’s Blog “Work Matters

There have been many studies done on the power of beliefs and how they can become a self-fulfilling prophecy. Bob Sutton, in a recent blog article, has tied it into intelligence, skills and performance (on-the-job or otherwise) and raised implications for low-cost, modest interventions in helping to improve peoples’ performances by helping tune-up their beliefs about themselves. As Mr. Sutton puts it: “When people believe they can get smarter, they do. BUT-and this is very important-when people believe that cognitive ability is difficult or impossible to change, they don’t get smarter.”

When people believe, as many do, that intelligence is fixed and unalterable (i.e. we are either born with it or we’re not) they lose motivation to do the things that lead to improvement and better performance. When people believe, as science is increasingly showing, that intelligence can be affected, in significant ways, by our actions and the choices we make, they tend to “…keep getting smarter and more skilled at what they already can do” and “are willing to learn new things that they do badly at first”. Science has shown that the brain is somewhat analogous to a muscle and the more exercise it gets (i.e. new learning), the stronger it gets (e.g. neurons grow new connections and become more efficient). Another example is that exercise has been shown to increase blood flow to the brain, which may help stave off or delay processes of deterioration such as Alzheimer’s. “Smarts come from what people do, not what they were born with.” Performance can indeed be improved.

This re-affirmation of the power of the self-fulfilling prophecy and realization that brainpower can be affected by our actions has profound effects for leadership. “It means that if you believe that ability is fixed and communicate this to the people you lead in your organization, they will treat their performance as an “impression management” problem, and carefully avoid providing you with information that they are bad at anything. If, by contrast, you—and they—believe that performance and ability are malleable, they will see tasks as learning opportunities, not just tests that determine if they are preordained to be “good” or “bad” at something.”

Carol Dweck’s Study “Can Personality Be Changed?, The Role of Beliefs in Personality and Change”

Dweck, C. S. (2008, Volume 17–Number 6). Can Personality Be Changed?, The Role of Beliefs in Personality and Change. Current Directions in Psychological Science , pp. 391-394.

Carol Dweck’s aforementioned research has further re-confirmed the power of the self-fulfilling prophecy and more strongly cemented its connection to the matter of intelligence, skill and performance.

From her abstract: “…beliefs lie at the heart of personality and adaptive functioning and they give us unique insight into how personality and functioning can be changed.” “…modest interventions have brought about important real-world changes.”

For leaders, this is where the leverage lies: “…modest interventions have brought about important real-world changes.”, and powerful, long-lasting ones at that. People’s self-theories are malleable and people can be taught that intelligence is malleable. For example, Dweck’s study educated a group of students about how science is showing that the brain really is like a muscle and makes new neuron connections, etc., with exercise and use. Many of these students reported visualizing neurons forming new connections as they studied and learned and “showed significant improvement in grades and significantly greater changes in their motivation” as well as “changes in study habits and persistence in the face of obstacles” versus a control group. A small intervention was demonstrated to have a large impact in changing behavior and performance. If peoples’ explanations for events can be changed so can their reactions to those events. What leverage and capability to help people change their lives! “It is not inevitable that people will function poorly in important areas of their lives.”