We'll see | Matt Zimmerman

a potpourri of mirth and madness

Problem Solving Leadership – Day 3

The third day began with a discussion on personality types, based on the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator and Keirsey Temperament models. Over the years, I’ve taken a few different tests with some variation in the results, most commonly INTP with the occasional INTJ. With this data in mind, I hadn’t taken another test prior to the course, but then, the morning of the third day, I decided to take the short web-based one provided. To my surprise, it indicated a type of ISTJ! Although it reported that I was quite close to the border between S and N, I’ve never received an S result before. Since I was taking the test under atypical circumstances (on a trip to a new country, in an academic setting, etc.) I decided to disregard this unexpected result for the moment. I took the same test again just now, in a more typical setting at home, and received the same result.

We plotted the types of everyone in the class, which curiously turned out to be very heavily biased toward N (intuition) over S (sensing). I wondered if this was typical for a roomful of software folk, but this was not the case for previous PSL workshops. We discussed personality types with regard to teams and roles, and what people of different types contribute to group problem solving.

One idea which stuck was that people have different communication preferences, and that it can make a tremendous difference to account for this in formulating a message. For example, N types are said more readily digest general principles when presented explicitly, while S types fare better with facts and examples which illustrate them. When addressing an N one-to-one, it might be better to clearly illustrate concepts than to provide a lot of data. In a group setting, it’s a good idea to present the information in multiple ways, such as a principle followed by some examples (as in this paragraph). As usual, Jerry was armed with powerful examples in the form of his own stories.

The rest of the day was taken up by an exercise which simulated a multi-level organization. This was one of the highlights of the week for me, as I found it an extremely rich learning experience, from the selection of a leader through the final debriefing. I volunteered to be a candidate “CEO”, which was atypical for me, as I tend to avoid being the center of attention in such circumstances. I had reflected on this earlier in the week, as the workshop included some guided writing in a journal. I was concerned this would limit my opportunities to learn in this setting. Because of this, I consciously chose to depart from this pattern and try something different, and was very glad that I did.

p1220054During the simulation, the room seemed so much larger, as we organized ourselves and information was accumulated unevenly by different people and teams in the “company”. I was surprised by its complexity, given the small scale (about 20 people and a few hours). We experienced stress, uncertainty, power struggles, even a threat of layoffs. The simulation was very clever, having clearly evolved and improved over time, and has already been a rich source of analogies in my work over the weeks which followed.

We concluded the day with a temperature reading, which provided a framework for the group to process their reactions to what had happened. Another gem from Virginia Satir, this technique does much more than assess status, as its name implies. It helps the group to connect emotionally, bringing them closer together through the shared experience of learning from what happened

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Written by Matt Zimmerman

February 28, 2009 at 13:01

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2 Responses

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  1. From my brief interactions with you in the past, and your replies to people on the mailing lists, I always thought that you’re a typical INTJ.

    Jonathan Carter

    February 28, 2009 at 13:24

  2. What happened to days 4 and 5?

    Joel Sheppard

    June 7, 2013 at 09:13


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