Understanding Personality Traits: The Key to Unlocking Success at Work

By Bob Hampe and Isaac Davenport

You’ve likely heard it before: Don’t judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, because it’ll fail every time (and feel like a failure in the process). This expression, commonly misattributed to Einstein, applies to several different scenarios. Most of them don’t involve fish, or trees.

In building any successful team, it’s key to understand each individual’s personality to determine in what roles they’ll really shine. 

Introverts and extroverts, methodical thinkers and “idea people,” left- or right-brain dominant—everyone brings something distinct and important to the table, but placing people in the wrong roles or failing to take work personalities into account at all can spell dysfunction and churn. 

Here are the ways we approach recruitment and team-building at Actall, and some tips for managers and company leadership for implementing in their own organizations. 

How to Manage Work Personalities in Heterogeneous Companies

Many companies, like Actall, are composed of several different departments. We have sales, customer support, hardware, implementation, project management, leadership and engineering teams. Since we sell systems throughout the world, some teams can be quite distributed from time to time, and we need to stay cohesive to ensure common goals are met. 

Our view is that it is wholly unconstructive to manage every team, let alone every team member, in the same manner. The personal traits needed for success in each discipline can be very different and the variation in personalities across our enterprise reflects just that. For example, salespeople are likely going to be a little more outgoing or a little louder than some engineering staff. The performance criteria of sales and engineering are different, and the makeup of those team members reflects those differences. Understanding and embracing those differences requires real effort!  We like to  take into account the “big five” personality traits: 

  • Agreeableness
  • Conscientiousness
  • Extroversion
  • Neuroticism
  • Openness to experience 

Studies show that the ways people are perceived at work have an impact on their work performance and job satisfaction, so having a good grasp of levels of, say, neuroticism or conscientiousness can do wonders in team-building as well as individual success at work. 

By the same token, humans also show a pretty remarkable capacity for personality adjustments, especially when they understand their baseline. We don’t advocate for personality changes as prerequisites—in fact, that’s the opposite of the point we’re trying to make—but if an employee has great potential for leadership but needs to work on being slightly more conscientious, structures can be put in place to help that employee work on that personality trait and shine as a leader.  

What does that structure look like? It can be as straightforward as establishing regular, one-on-one check-ins with each team member as part of that leader’s role. Facilitating such communications sets the stage for each team member to make their voice heard outside of group meetings—and gives the leader opportunity to practice empathy and problem solving.       

Additionally, we are proud to base our operation on a key personal philosophy:  We’re not here to be your parents – You’re an adult and deserve to be treated as such.  As an example, it’s been highly effective to allow team members to work their own hours and determine their own time off within the project requirements of the team(s) on which they participate.

We’ve seen that our teammates, when given this freedom, bring their best to the table. Early birds who work better when they are fresh out of bed are free to begin their days well ahead of conventional workday hours. Or if an engineer tends to do better with extended, uninterrupted focus time, they’re free to set those expectations and work in a way that helps them thrive in their role. 

This kind of autonomy helps people find their groove and feel confident in their roles, leading to better performance and higher levels of satisfaction at work. 

It Starts at the Top

Leaders need to spend the time getting to know their colleagues’ work personalities. Personality tests are one way—Meyers-Briggs or the Big Five are good options, especially because of the ability for the participant to be introspective.

But sometimes, it’s as simple as scheduling one-on-ones with staff and just asking them. Would they consider themselves introverts, or extroverts? Larks, or night owls? Independent workers, or better on teams? 

Company leadership should also be forthcoming about their own personality traits and actively demonstrate the ways they adjust their roles and behaviors to make them the best employees they can be. This could look like declining a meeting invite from an external stakeholder if it interrupts their scheduled “focus time,” for example—with the understanding that the meeting can happen another time. 

And remember, this is an iterative process. People change and circumstances change. Giving your staff the freedom to be open about their personalities and where they thrive will lead to better retention and more happiness at work.