August 20th, 2010

Organizational Dimensions, Personality Types and Development

In Transforming Your Company with Open Source (slide 9), I list some of the distinctive characteristics of four fundamental dimensions of companies:

Talent and Skills
Organizational Knowledge and Wisdom
Social Networks
Communities of Practice
Values and Ethics
Enabling Possibilities
Creating/Designing Products and Services
Invention and Innovation
Productivity Tools
Managing Realities
Organizational Structure
Assets, Liabilities and Equity
Investments and Profitability
Sales and Marketing
Customer Value
Strategy and Objectives

In slide 15, I relate the nature of these dimensions to the nature of the psychological functions in Jungian personality theory (see the first few paragraphs of Personality Type and the Open Source Community for some more background information). Although the organizational dimensions aren’t as clearly orthogonal or as polar as the psychological functions, there’s enough there to generate the same kind of dynamics. I think we can go so far as to map these dimensions to their most closely affiliated function:

Organizational Dimension Psychological Function
Technology Intuition (N)
Business Thinking (T)
People Feeling (F)
Process Sensing (S)

I’d like to clarify that I’m not trying to reduce each organizational dimension into its corresponding psychological function. We can use all of our functions when working on any of the organizational dimensions. What I am pointing out is the tendency for a function to have a characteristic association with its corresponding dimension. For example, when we talk about making Business decisions, we’re almost always talking about T decisions that need to be made impersonally and objectively. When we’re exploring Technology, it’s N that is able to make the biggest leaps with invention and innovation. The People dimension is full of complex F considerations — values and relationships. The S attention to detail is instrumental in defining and precisely executing processes that are grounded in reality.

This becomes even more evident in the simultaneously complementary and contentious interactions between the polar-opposite pairs T-F and N-S. T wants to make objective decisions and F wants to make personal decisions. S wants to look at specific experiences and N wants to look at general observations.

According to Jungian personality theory, when we develop our personalities, we develop, or differentiate, a preferred function for taking in information (either N or S) and a preferred function for making decisions (either T or F). As we gain competence with our preferred functions, we tend to identify with their ways of seeing and dealing with the world, and to disidentify with their opposites. For example, a T type might pride himself on making the “right” decisions based on objective criteria, irrespective of his personal feelings. Whereas an F type might pride himself on making the “right” decisions based on his personal values, irrespective of the circumstances. As we grow, we discover the limits of our preferred functions, and realize that they’re only giving us half the story. We then proceed to integrate the perspectives of the other two functions. We still retain our preferences, but we relax our grip on them. We recognize the value of others who are strong in areas that we are not. We can see the world more clearly, and can make wiser decisions.

Now let’s tie this back to the organizational dimensions, particularly as they are embodied in large organizations. Take a “business type” who prides himself on results like increasing market share, expanding the size of his company and maximizing financial return on investment. He may see the technology, people and process dimensions as necessary costs of doing business. He may even recognize that, when developed, they can give his business a competitive advantage. But apart from that, he doesn’t dwell on them. He’s not interested in “technology for technology’s sake”, he isn’t a “people person”, and he doesn’t “tolerate bureaucracy”.

The same kind of picture can be painted for others who identify strongly with the people, process or technology dimensions. They may see the business dimension as necessary for providing their job and paycheck. They may even recognize that, when developed, business can yield new opportunities and enriching experiences to learn and contribute, and evolve in their areas of expertise. But they’re not “business people” — they’re motivated more by other things.

It’s valuable to develop a basic level of competence with each of the dimensions. This helps us gauge where our energy, skills and interests are most aligned, and where they aren’t. We can ascertain where others can be most helpful to us and where we can help them. We can then proceed to develop mastery-level expertise in our most closely aligned dimension(s), with a minimum of distraction or second-guessing.

Just as with the psychological functions, as our awareness increases, we can integrate the perspectives of the other organizational dimensions into our thinking. Our attitude goes from seeing the other dimensions as unavoidable nuisances, or accepting them in a utilitarian, transactional kind of way, to actively recognizing their value on their own merits. We are then able to place solid trust in those with strengths in other dimensions, and work with them interdependently to achieve broader goals.

In building this awareness, I think it’s important to keep in mind this insight from personality theory: We realize our highest potential when we honor our natural preferences, not when we shortchange them. That doesn’t mean that we cling to them, but it does mean that we don’t fool ourselves into expecting great results when we adopt someone else’s preferences instead. Trying to turn a process-wonk into a technology wizard (or vice versa) is ultimately a recipe for mediocrity, not excellence.

When organizations coach people with these principles in mind, they can optimize the talents of their people and accelerate their professional and personal growth.

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