Personality Testing Improves Communication and Teamwork

Date Posted: 8/22/2019

By Lindsay Peyton

A lot goes into building a well-running ministry team. Each piece has to fit together in just the right way to make an efficient and productive group. Despite the careful consideration required, teams are too often formed simply by selecting whoever is available at a certain time. Or, leaders search for certain attributes in the members – or even people who think the same way as they do. In fact, piecing together a dynamic crew involves finding a variety of personalities who can work in harmony, complementing each other’s strengths and understanding how to handle weaknesses. Often, a personality assessment can be the best way to determine who works best where.

The Meyers-Briggs assessment has been a standard with congregations since the 1960s, but, as time progressed, more reliable and advanced tools have become available.

The Birkman Method, for example, has become a popular test at the TAC. The methodology for this behavioral and occupational assessment company located in Houston headed by psychologist Dr. Roger Birkman, a longtime member of FUMC Houston.
 
Rev. Peter Cammarano, senior pastor of Chapelwood UMC in Lake Jackson, serves on the TAC’s Clergy Accountability Cluster where he is a team leader for the Birkman Method.
 
He discovered the assessment tool 10 years ago, when the TAC was searching for ways to help pastors become even better leaders. Since then, the Birkman has become a tool of choice, he explained.
 
The Birkman is given to anyone seeking to become commissioned to those advancing as senior leaders – and everyone in between. The assessment helps college pastoral interns and ministers who are looking to refresh their skills alike.
 
“Birkman is the gold standard all the way around,” Cammarano said. “It’s reliable.”
 
The Enneagram, an ancient wisdom that identifies nine types of personalities, has also become a favorite way of understanding spirituality and faith in the TAC. Leaders like Rev. Michelle Manuel, associate director of adult ministry at St. Luke’s UMC in Houston, have found the Enneagram to be invaluable.
 
“In terms of my ministry, I can incorporate it into anything,” she said. “It goes right into discipleship and healing. The Enneagram actually tells us the hard stuff to learn about ourselves, our fears and our motivations.”
 
She is fascinated by the deep history of the Enneagram, as well as the spiritual component and a way to address faults found in the system. “I realize those things that are causing me and others harm,” Manuel said. “I get to offer that up to Jesus, and I get to be free. Even if it’s only for a moment, I get a chance to lay that part of my personality down.”
 
Rev. Jim Reiter and his wife Kathy were also drawn to the Enneagram. Jim, an ordained elder in the UMC for more than 30 years, is certified in Spiritual Formation by the General Board of Higher Education and Ministry.
 
Kathy is also a certified spiritual director and Enneagram instructor.
 
 “I’ve found it transformational,” and it helped me work through some paradigm shifts,” she said.
 
Jim believes the Enneagram offers something other personality tests do not. “There’s another dimension to it,” he said. “It goes the extra step of being prescriptive.”
 
While the Birkman and Enneagram are different, each provides essential insights into individuals about themselves, as well as highlighting how others operate.
 
With that greater understanding can come better collaboration, whether that’s a team of church leadership or lay volunteers – or even between a pastor and congregation member. The same is true in relationships and with family dynamics.
 
Tools like the Birkman and Enneagram can foster better understanding and help build relationships in a number of ways:
 
  • Gain the words to express yourself. One of the most powerful gifts of the Birkman or the Enneagram is the vocabulary it offers.
 
“Assessments don’t give you new information,” Cammarano said. “Assessments give you the language so you can communicate that information with others. You’ve had it your whole life. Now you can talk about it.”
 
In other words, he explained that he doesn’t teach individuals how to be leaders. Instead, through Birkman coaching, he helps them recognize their leadership style – and gain a way to talk about it.
 
Kathy Reiter found the same to be true about the Enneagram. “It gave me a language for things I was not able to wrap my head around,” she said.
 
  • Peel away your masks. Kathy Reiter said our authentic selves are revealed in the Enneagram. “It opens your eyes about yourself, how we armor up and protect ourselves,” she said. “We can get so buried that we don’t really know ourselves.”
 
Our true selves are often hidden. “We just pile stuff on top of our truest experiences,” Kathy said. “Sometimes it will crack. Sometimes, it’s a crisis. But also, it’s just wanting to live your best life.”
 
The Enneagram is a powerful tool for peeling everything back and exposing the truth, she said. “It lets us be who God made us to be, to engage in a more vulnerable and spiritual way,” she said.
 
  • Create compassion. In addition to learning more about yourself, personality tests give you an opportunity to truly understand what makes each person unique, Manuel explained.
 
“There are nine different ways of seeing this world, nine different ways of being and seeing, nine different ways of showing up,” she said. “And everyone is allowed to be different and to make different choices than I would.”
 
Understanding those differences can help individuals work together better – and truly comprehend why one person acts in a certain way. “Teams get together, and they want to know how you tick, how you come alive in your job, so we can work together and be in peace,” Manuel said.
 
Different numbers in the Enneagram have different needs and function better in different environments.  One number may be more fearful, another more aware of power dynamics and a third more interested in relationships
 
That doesn’t mean that those types cannot complement each other, Manuel said. “Any number can work together, but it’s going to be difficult if anyone is unhealthy,” she said.
 
Self-awareness is key, Jim Reiter said. When a person learns more about themselves, and how to function at their best, they can reach their potential. Then, they are able to truly honor others.
 
“The Enneagram has helped me realize that the way I interact is as much about my wiring as anything else,” he said. “I wish I had this tool when I started ministry.”
 
The same awareness comes through studying the Birkman Method. “Not everybody is like you – and also you’re not the only one who is like you,” Cammarano said.
 
Birkman allows team members to spot their different behaviors – and identify ways to all work in concert. Pastors can even see how their leadership styles might work – or not – with the congregation where they are assigned. For instance, one church may prefer more direct and detailed leadership, while another might succeed though more suggestive commands.
 
Cammarano, as a result, is able to look at Birkman results of a team and determine why certain members might be frustrated with others – and ways to course correct communication.
 
In addition, Birkman eliminates pre-conceived notions, allowing for a deeper understanding and connection right after the assessment. “Birkman just tells you what you do well and the environment it takes to get you there,” he said.
 
  • Work together, better. Regardless of the type of assessment, or the reason for the test, service to God remains central. “Jesus doesn’t just heal us for ourselves,” Manuel said. “He heals us so we can go out and heal others. He heals us so we can go out and serve others.”
 
Cammarano quotes Rabbi Zusya, who said that at Judgment Day, God will not ask him why he was not Moses, but instead why he was not Zusya.
 
“Why did you try to live someone else’s life?” Cammarano asks. “The heart of Birkman is that it gives you permission to be who you are called to be.”
 
His mission has always been “to do good things with good people to change the world.” Birkman is one way to help him figure out an ideal team to march forward and make a positive impact.
 
Kathy Reiter explained that each different personality is a reflection of God. “We all have a space to fill in this world, and that is Godlike,” she said.
 
When someone is different, she considers that, “They have an aspect of God that I don’t have access to.”
 
Rev. Jim Reiter cautions about using personality assessments to improve or correct other people. Instead, he said to let the tests as a tool to build your own understanding. “Every person has a place at the table,” he said.
  • Become more self-aware. To learn more about the Enneagram, Manuel recommends finding a teacher. She said online tests can actually be detrimental to the process. 

In addition, visit Cammarano’s website to learn more about his coaching with the Birkman Method at coachingforgrace.com.