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Do Personality Tests Belong In The Workplace?

A colleague recently asked "What is your approach to forming teams or committees? Either in clubs or your organizations. Is it solely structure-based or do you refer to personality tests or any other HR hacks to make the work smoother and more efficient?"

That's a great question. It's my opinion that the time and place for assessments is dependent on the scenario. Different situations, different solutions, while always remembering that teams are first and foremost made up of human beings.

During much of my career as a US military officer, personality assessments were an uncommon tool usually used as an “after assessment”. For example, psychiatric assessments to determine a soldier’s fitness to return to duty after certain incidents. For the most part commanders built teams out of whatever material (people) was at hand; i.e. whoever was assigned to the organization.

More recently, assessment tools have populated the military’s professional development programs, but they are usually used as a forum for self-analysis. For example, I teach in the graduate leadership degree program of a university that caters to the mid-career military and first responder communities. Personality assessments are embedded in nearly every course in the curriculum. They are not taught as tools for hiring/firing or team building.

During my academic and consulting career, I have used a w

ide range of assessments with clients and classrooms. As a professor, I became curious why certain groups of students worked well while other groups faltered. I used Kolb’s Learning Style Inventory to assess student learning preferences and began consciously assigning students to groups rather than letting them sort themselves. The results were amazing!

As a consultant I’ve used assessments to gain, or to give the client, insight to the culture of teams and organizations, but never to sort or assign. As part of this I’ve learned that assessments can be “gamed” or affected by the conditions under which they are given. For example, with one client group of 13 engineers, the assessment illustrated correctly that most of the group were Introverts. But it also suggested that the group suffered from anxiety and depression. In a retake of assessment, I changed the circumstances by coaching the participants to take the assessment only when they were completely relaxed and happy; the results were significantly more positive.

As a university department head and administrator, I reviewed the results of the HR hacks and then set them aside in favor of my own custom-designed and flawless assessment tool: “Would I enjoy having a beer with this person?” After all, no matter what skills the person brings to the team, if they are a pill, they won’t last long.

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