Beyond the Tool Kit

October 30, 2012 : General Team Building

Team Development Developing Teams

In this month’s guest blog, Lead Facilitator Peter Dunn shares some of his thoughts on a particular people development point of interest in the area of profiling tools and models

With much experience in team and leadership development, I’ve been focussing in the past couple of years more on improving my understanding of the psychology of how we relate to each other and applying it to real problems. This is in the space between coaching and counselling and focusses on understanding and working with, for example, some of the automatic reactions we can have to certain people or situations at work. With that insight comes choice about how to work with others who you wouldn’t necessarily want to socialise with, as well as a better grasp of why teams do work well, etc.

One of the starting points for any people development consultant intervention is a diagnostic tool, but of course as a client you’re aware that what’s on offer can reflect the consultant’s skills and experience as much as whether it’s objectively the right tool for your needs. TMS, Belbin, MBTI, Team Effectiveness Inventory,Strengthsfinder… It’s a bit glib to generalise, but broadly they either describe people’s personality, or their behaviour in teams. But the key questions for you are more about whether the consultant understands your aims, whether any tools they recommend are fit for purpose in your context and how well they will be implemented and followed through – each worth an article in its own right!

One of the commonest accusations levelled by some clients at such tools is that people’s personalities or behaviour cannot be put in a box. On one level that is valid, though some instruments such as TMSplace people across a range on a scale, more reflective of their behaviours and situational choices in real life. My response is that these tools don’t make value judgements of people. Quite the opposite – they provide a language to describe and value differences between people, thus offer choice.  Choice about how to ‘be’ as a manager or a colleague, how best to deploy skills and behavioural strengths, who to have complement each other on a task, whether information or inspiration will be better received, etc. But if there is suspicion of, or resistance to the use of tools, I wonder if this is more about defending our own vulnerabilities  – what Gerard Egan called  ‘The Shadow Side‘ – that are not explored or managed.

The right language can also depersonalise what can be perceived as criticism. TMS for example, while it uses terms such as ‘introvert’ and ‘extrovert’ which will antagonise some, describes roles and behaviour in positive terms – how, for example, some people will do their best work at a desk looking after the detail of a project, while others enjoy going out to find resources and negotiate deals.

Many clients these days have ‘done’ Belbin Team Roles or MBTI etc and look for the next new tool. For some, a different prism can shed new light and that is right for them; for others, it can be worth looking at how to build on their existing framework and insights. Some tools are part of a suite that enable this though more often, training or coaching is the way forward.

For some, for example managers reflecting on their leadership style and performance, there could be questions such as ‘why do I fear difficult conversations with this person?’ or ‘why do I become disproportionately irritated with that person?’ While this rapidly moves from tools into task-focussed coaching on how to behave differently, it can also challenge the competence of many coaches when individuals reflect on underlying drivers that might be only dimly in their consciousness, if at all. This is a realm where fundamental change takes place and one I enjoy exploring with them through providing a safe, non-judgemental environment. There, self-discovery can be life-changing. For the business, the benefits can be tremendous when a manager is truly self-aware and comfortable in their skin in their role. They are perceived as authentic by their staff and they find greater motivation and job satisfaction.


Peter Dunn is an Associate Lead Facilitator with Maximillion and an independent consultant.  As well as having qualifications and extensive experience in leadership and team development, Peter is a qualified NLP practitioner, coach and relationship counsellor.

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