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A Wide Variety of Team Role Tests

Management Drives? Insights Discovery, Lumina Spark or Enneagram? Or just simply Belbin? There is an abundance of models on the market to map team roles. Countless companies and organizations have already adopted one of them. Increasingly, these models use a color coding. So beware these days when you hear: “I’m mostly red”. Sure… but according to what system?

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Models with or without color

Many team role tests and models are designed to give you an easy understanding of your personality. An increasing amount focusses on the work environment. An example is the PAPI test, developed in the early 60s, and popular in business mid-80s. It describes personality characteristics in dimensions. The test has been widely used for recruitment and selection.

Other tests aim to describe the totality of a person in a holistic type. People are conveniently labeled as, for example, “helper”, such as in the Quinn Octogram. Although every test can be used to describe roles and composition of a team, the Belbin Team Roles model is the most prominent, as it was especially designed for teams.

Among the roughly ten most popular models you’ll find quite some overlap. Not only in language, but also in the use of colors. It looks convenient, but it’s typically with the use of a color coding that misunderstanding is abound. Many people pass through more than one color system in their careers, so it’s easy to confuse the one ‘yellow’ with the other. The Insights colors, for instance, deviate from the colors in the Herrmann Brain Dominance Model, which again are different from Management Drives or Real Drives or Lumina Spark… it never ends. Many models share the same origins (I know of six variations of the Jung personality types), but some are completely unique. Think of the Kolb learning styles, or the nine personality types of the Enneagram. The interest for this rather ancient model sored around the year 2000, now you hear little about it.

The first to use color coding – to my knowledge – was Edward De Bono, who in 1985 introduced the Six Thinking Hats: thinking styles which he presented as colored hats. Everyone prefers to think with a certain type of hat. This model, once wildly popular, is now almost forgotten.

Which model or test to use, and how?

Models come and go, which is hardly a tragedy, because they all do practically the same. And with each of them you can go down the tubes the same way. What you should avoid:

  • Labeling people and characterizing them in simple slogans or even colors. This is hard to escape, because all models simply love stereotyping. A color code is useful but it is also abstract. In that sense “helper” is still more meaningful than “green”.
  • Relying on simple tests that are completed by the ‘personalities’ themselves. Self-perception is not without bias and far from stable. The repeatability of test results is usually low.
  • Using superficial tests to underpin major decisions, such as firing and hiring.
  • Trusting standardized reports, as they are so vague and diffuse that it’s impossible to not recognize the better part of it (horoscope effect). You will find strengths in it, but weaknesses are generally described ambiguously. Not much of a help really.
  • Spending fortunes on posh companies who test and measure all your staff, together with workshops, expensive licenses and heaps of merchandise. It’s a trend, since a decade or so, but cheaper options are available.

If you really want to use personality models

  • Tie the model to a specific context. Describe behavior in this team, or in this circumstance, to prevent false claims of universal truth.
  • Have several people complete a test about the same individual and explore similarities and differences of the outcomes (360-feedback style).
  • Perform a few self-reflection exercises, perhaps using a test/model, and then ask people to write their own user manual.
  • Skip the test altogether. Use a proper feedback method to learn from each other about what type of the personality model you are. Work with concrete examples and cases, again adding context (how situation affects your behavior).
  • Or escape even the model and construct your own typology. I like teams to invent their own metaphors (eg Zoo or Circus, or even more abstract, such as buildings or ships) and use this ‘language’ to talk about characteristics, qualities and pitfalls of its members.

What matters in a team is that people learn to reflect on their behavior and on that of their peers. They will learn to appreciate how collaboration improves with diversity, and that it doesn’t hurt to have a look in the mirror every once in a while.

Now, if you are still keen to use a team role model, avoid color blindness. My personal choice would still be Belbin.

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