Please note that this story is based on real events.
The action takes place at the end of September. As part of my consulting and team coaching activity, I received a request from a team director working in a big company. It is a multicultural team of about thirty people whose members mostly work remotely, from different countries, who have different jobs, and which is made up of managers and employees. They are expected to meet for a seminar in a very touristy town.
The request is urgent! A two-hour workshop in English must be set up for the following week, with the following prerequisites:
- Intervene remotely, at the end of the day, the team being on its offsite location
- Allow the client to "discover the personalities and sensitivities of each employee"
- If possible use a personality test (the MBTI method is mentioned).
If you are an executive, HR or manager, this request may seem normal to you... Let me explain why it leads, on the contrary, to counter-productive or even harmful sessions…
Cut! Freeze frame
Why is the opening scene shocking?
The team will have a relaxing time in Barcelona, Marseille or Lisbon, the directors will share their vision by the swimming pool, the dinner will allow them to get to know their colleagues from the other side of the world better… and then, because there’s some free time between 6 and 8pm, we will set up a nice little workshop led by a remote coach.
Yes, it sounds nice… But as often, the devil is in the details. Here the details are the intentions of the team director, the ethics of the coach, and their professionalism.
Let’s zoom in on the details of the story
The intention of the client
The stated intention is to "discover the personalities and sensitivities of each employee", thanks to a "fun" workshop.
Basically, “discovering everyone’s personalities and sensitivities” takes on a whole new meaning when it is your manager or a leader who announces the program to you. Doubt is allowed... In the same way, the coach's ethical radar is activated. The coach is not the strong arm or the spy of the manager, who will, thanks to their tests or other magic tools, reveal to them who is good and bad, committed or disengaged, "corporate" or not...
As for the format, the written demand of a “fun little workshop” is typically something I don’t like to receive. This is something I would love to do if I was an events planner! But my job is consulting and coaching teams in companies.
Among the tools available to the coach, there are workshops, work sessions, team building... Each of these modules meets a very specific objective and is part of a comprehensive coaching system.
Therefore, when working with a team, always ask yourself these questions beforehand:
- What is the purpose of organizing this workshop / group session? Towards which professional objective?
- With what intention? What specific outcomes am I expecting?
- Will this really allow you to work and bring value to the team?
More ambitious directing is needed
You guessed it, that's an understatement...
We are talking about a multicultural, remote, multi-business team of people who are not used to working together in person.
The gap between this initial situation and the hoped-for idyllic situation of a group of people who “get to know each other” and “discover their personalities and sensibilities” is very real! It is too deep to be bridged in two hours, with a remote coach, in the early evening, with 30 people who do not speak the same language and do not know each other.
There is also a major pitfall: the workshop brings together managers and employees, managers and leaders. There is no reason to think that speech is entirely liberated, sincere, authentic.
In short, an essential element is missing in the realization of this workshop: trust.
Ethics is missing from the script
The bond of trust cannot be decreed. A workshop with the goal to “discover the personalities and sensitivities” of each employee is, however, almost exclusively based on the postulate of trust. However, a workshop as described before would basically force people to go through an individual process with a collective, which could possibly arouse empathy or emotion at the time, but also build the ground for future issues.
Then comes the topic of personality tests (MBTI type or others). These are tests that must be handled with care, by people authorized to do so, and according to a protocol that respects the person. In short, these are not tests that are done, nor even whose results are discovered or analyzed, even less are shared in front of 30 people by a remote coach. These tests must first be presented to people who wish to take them: how they work, under what conditions (stress, stages of life, emotions of the moment) can they be taken or not, how these conditions can influence the results tests, why the result discovered at a given time may change over time, why it is important to consider each result, or profile, as valid, because there is no "better" profile than others.
Then, people, especially in a professional setting, must be free to take it or not.
Confidentiality of the results must be guaranteed.
Sharing the results can therefore in no way be an obligation, or a rite of passage, even less a selection or advancement criterion. The drift would be to assign each profile a label.
Finally, the discovery and analysis of the results must be accompanied and supervised by the professional in charge of administering the tests.
It is normal, however, that these tests are tempting. They are fashionable, they intrigue, they exist in “watered down” or “degraded” versions that can be taken in just a few minutes. However, it is not without consequences to embark on this adventure in the professional environment, without a clear intention to start, and without strict ethical precautions.
Let’s rewind and go for a better version
Here are two alternative suggestions:
1/ If the constraint of 2 hours and 30 participants is strong: …
I would recommend a workshop that can allow people to get to know each other better in small groups of 4-5 people, neither too intrusive nor too impressive, and above all around a common objective relating to the life of the team.
The activity is of course guided.
In my opinion, this type of approach makes it possible to combine 2 angles:
- human and relational: getting to know each other around a common achievement or objective, through "work" in small groups
- professional: around the team objective set upstream, which can revolve around a team project, the vision
Finally, it is an approach that encourages further dialogue: what questions emerged from this workshop; what are the priorities; what are the strong values of the team...
2/ If the primary objective is to “discover each person’s personalities and sensitivities”:
Deep work is therefore required. If these criteria are not met, the teams feel it and lose confidence in their management.
Yet it can be really beneficial to go deeper into the underlying objectives of such a request.
This could be, depending on the specific needs of each team:
- to improve collaboration, in particular at a distance, by improving communication,
- to highlight the fact that everyone can have a mode of communication in which he or she feels more comfortable, while being able to connect to the favorite communication channel of his or her colleagues from time to time time
Beyond these examples, which are not exhaustive, it is important to lay sound foundations for more efficient and more serene teamwork.
In order to strengthen the links within the team by knowing its workings and its relationships, it could be wise to start with qualitative individual interviews conducted by a third party (at least another person than the direct manager). Anonymized feedback would thus make it possible to bring out the real subjects of friction, concern, but also pride and success, questions, doubts and wishes, in order to start teamwork on concrete, unbiased and useful bases.
Yes, it is a real investment of time and the involvement required is real. The effects will also be more useful and more lasting… To meditate on during the end credits!