Can You Use The MBTI® With Multi-Cultural Teams?

This month’s article has been inspired by an e-mail I received from one of my readers.

In light of Toronto’s multicultural environment, does the MBTI® produce useful results in diverse work groups?  In other words, has the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator® (MBTI®) been tested for cultural bias in addition to measures of reliability and validity?

Changing workforce demographics increasingly challenge us to be a part of, manage, or lead high performing teams. Whether we are working across the desk or across the globe, building collaborative relationships can enhance individual satisfaction with work, build team camaraderie, and yield huge productivity gains for an organization. To date, the MBTI® has been extensively used to increase individual effectiveness and boost team performance.

The question about whether the MBTI® can be successfully used in multicultural team settings touches on two key issues: (1) the universality of personality type, and (2) the influence of culture on personality type. To put some perspective on the subject, I’d like to share some information on both topics. I’ll conclude with some practical ideas for successfully implementing the MBTI® in different group settings.

Is Personality Type Universal?

The MBTI® is based on Carl Jung’s theory of psychological types. The theory examines inborn personality patterns for how people perceive information and respond in different situations. The MBTI® Manual explains that since perception and judgment are common mental processes across the entire human species, type differences should be consistent across cultures.

This theory has been tested with populations on all continents around the globe. Research results indicate that people across different cultures find explanations of psychological type understandable and useful. Because of its broad applicability, the MBTI® instrument has been translated in more than 20 languages and is used around the world.

Does Culture Influence Personality Type?

Although personality type is universal, cultural expectations can affect the ways in which people express their personality type. This is because personality is innate while cultural norms are learned. Learning about personality type in the context of a multicultural environment can be a powerful way to further improve understanding about the many ways in which people are both similar and different.

One of my favourite websites for learning about the MBTI® is The Myers & Briggs Foundation. Following is a link to the site, which includes a more elaborate explanation of using the MBTI® across different cultures.

In addition to ethnic culture, companies, workgroups, and teams also have a “culture” – unique ways in which people act and interact. Furthermore, it’s not uncommon to find numerous sub-cultures or even countercultures within a single organization. This is why it’s good practice to implement measures that foster an openness to exploring personality type.

There are many measures that can be put in place to educate on the value of self-assessment. Here are some ideas to help increase the potential for success in using the MBTI® in teams and with diverse audiences:

  • describe what the MBTI® can and can not achieve, and likewise, how the results will be used
  • make participation in completing the assessment strictly voluntary
  • explain the value of the different personality types in everyday situations
  • acknowledge that the individual knows themselves best, and integrate opportunities for self-identifying preferences
  • create a process for troubleshooting differences in self-assessed and reported type
  • treat learning about personality type as a process that unfolds over time, rather than a one time event

Probably the most important insight is that when it comes to people, there are few straightforward answers. A self-assessment instrument such as the MBTI® can enhance our understanding of human beings and give us new perspectives on how to deal with people from all walks of life. The rest is up to us.