The Limitations of MBTI for Team Building


MBTI is certainly well-known, well marketed and widely used, but does that necessarily mean that it works as well as it should?

Like many providers, we have been exposed to and made use of a bewildering array of models and tools in our 25 years or so of operation (including Belbin, Myers Briggs, LSI, TMS, HBDI etc, etc).

We can therefore comment with some experience on the benefits and limitations of them in terms of the actual impact and uptake by the clients when they actually hit the "real world".

One model that gets discussed a great deal is of course the "Myers Briggs Type Indicator" often referred to simply as "MBTI". As we know it’s been around a long time and for many it serves as a useful indicator of their preferences (across its four major dichotomies and thence where they may fall amongst the 16 major types).

We would argue that whilst it might be nice in a discussion about self development, that its applicability to cutting edge team and leadership development in the 21st century are now somewhat limited. A great recent UK article puts it rather well and is worthy of a quick read http://www.theguardian.com/science/brain-flapping/2013/mar/19/myers-briggs-test-unscientific .

Whilst there is much debate over the overall validity and reliability of the model (depending upon whether a person subscribes to Jung’s theories that underpin the model, and then whether these were accurately applied or not by Myers and Briggs?) it does have a long track record for self-development and awareness. Its detractors though now seem to be outweighing its advocates.

When well presented it can certainly get people thinking about what might drive themselves and others to think, feel and approach the world the way that they do. Lovely stuff, but how does this really help me at work with a hostile meeting or a team under pressure?

We would argue that when the “rubber hits the road” not a great deal at all. Unless you can really climb inside somebodies head, their MBTI profile (whether accurate or not) may not be evident at all in the behavior that is manifesting, and that you have to deal with.

There’s certainly nothing wrong with seeking to explore your “inner world” and to then try and grasp what might drive and actuate those of others. In reality though we find that MBTI as a model and tool is just a little too complex, unwieldy and ethereal to help under real world pressures (particularly with more “street-wise” teams demanding more pragmatism and less theory).

Amongst the limitations we have seen over the years are…

  1. Alphabet Soup and Dichotomies?

In even its simplest terms many people simply cannot speak the language of MBTI reliably within even days of having done a course.Under real world stress people may be able to recall .The letter-based terminology and its deeper implications can befuddle those not intended to work with such a model on a daily basis.Usually we find its only the biggest fans of this model that recall much of it at all a few weeks down the track.It therefore has far less chance of making it into genuine “day to day” scenarios and solving the pressing inter-personal clashes that can impact execution on a daily basis.The very concept of “dichotomies” is also a struggle for many busy people attending work related programmes and seeking practical tools that can be deployed in developing teams and relationships.We have seen many sets of eyes glaze over from all but the most ardent observers of the human condition on any MBTI related programmes.

  1. Self observation doesn’t always match actual behavior

MBTI relies upon “self observation” alone and many people, especially those with less than perfect self-awareness, will incorrectly “type” themselves. Moreover even with an accurate profile, type does not necessarily measure the actual behaviours that people are projecting regularly at work. It’s these behaviours that people actually observe that will powerfully impact upon relationships, planning and execution. It’s therefore these that the business world benefits most from working with. There is also much concern about the validity of the way MBTI measures the dichotomies in such a “black and white” scale, when human beings are usually many “shades of grey” in terms of the complexities that underpin both personality and behavior.

  1. Zealotry and Inflexibility

Experience across the years has shown us that all too often a particular tool or model can be used in the style of a “zealous ideology”, as opposed to another useful tool in the toolbox. Such practitioners seem incapable of suffering any critique of its limitations, almost to the extremes of having cognitive dissonance when challenged in any way about glaring inaccuracies or miss-matched profiles.This can have present some inherent dangers when emerging research (particularly in neuroscience and social science) openly contradict many previous assumptions about the way personality and behavior manifests in teams.MBTI has a reputation for having amongst the most zealous practitioners in this regard, and the arising inflexibility can often make it hard to adapt when new approaches are required to team and leadership development.

Sabre has certainly used many models over the years, and remains happy to use and work with them still at client request, but cannot conceal that we have a favourite.

One of the single biggest reasons that we continue to use and promote the Belbin Team Role Model is that we simply know that it works and regularly see practical and real world solutions arising from it even years after a programme has been completed with a client.

For our clients, we just know that for team and leadership development we are only rated as highly as our last programme was effective or not, and we are happy to tie our professional reputation to Belbin.

See our Belbin Site.

#limitationsofmbti #profilingforteambuilding