Working in a group can change your personality
Although personality is largely genetically determined, it can change to some extent. Many people change gradually over the course of their lives or under the influence of important events such as getting married, divorced, having a child, losing a job, or having an accident. The latest research shows that remote teamwork can also lead to personality changes.
William Swart and Judy A. Siguaw, when examining the popular MBTI personality test of postgraduate students, noticed that more than half of the participants obtained different results in the test after one year than before starting their studies. This prompted them to look at the issue and conduct more detailed research.
The study participants were 58 people who took part in an intensive 5-week summer course in business analytics. The course was conducted online and involved working in teams of 4-5. At the end of the course, both the knowledge acquired individually by each student and the effect of the team’s work, measured as the average of the group members’ ratings, were assessed.
The authors of the study measured the personality traits of students before and after the course with three tests: HEXACO-PI-R, Rotter’s questionnaire measuring locus of control, and an emotional intelligence test.
HEXACO personality model
The HEXACO personality model assumes that the human personality consists of 6 basic dimensions: Honesty-Humility, Emotionality, Extraversion, Agreeableness, Conscientiousness and Openness to experience.
People with very high scores on the Honesty-Humility personality scale avoid manipulating others for personal gain, are not tempted to break the rules, are not interested in wealth and luxuries, and do not feel particularly entitled to a higher social status. Conversely, people with very low scores on this scale will flatter others to get what they want, tend to break the rules for personal gain, are motivated by material gain, and feel that they are more important and better than others.
People who have very high scores on the Emotionality scale are afraid of physical threats, feel anxious in response to life stresses, need emotional support from others, and feel empathy and strong attachment to others. On the contrary, people with very low scores on this personality scale are not deterred by the prospect of physical harm, are not worried about stressful situations, have little need to share their fears with others, and feel emotionally detached from others.
People with very high scores on the Extraversion scale feel confident as group leaders, enjoy socializing, and often experience a positive feeling of enthusiasm and energy. On the other hand, people with very low scores on this personality scale (highly introverted people) consider themselves unpopular, feel awkward when they are in the spotlight, are indifferent to social activities, and feel less vigorous and optimistic than others.
Highly agreeable people easily forgive the wrongs they have suffered, are understanding in judging others, willing to compromise and cooperate with others, and easily control their temperament. Conversely, people with very low scores on this personality scale hold a grudge against those who have hurt them, are rather critical of the faults of others, stubbornly defend their point of view, and easily get angry in response to mistreatment.
People with very high Conscientiousness organize their time and their physical environment well, pursue their goals in a disciplined manner, strive for accuracy and perfection in their tasks, and make decisions carefully. On the contrary, those who score very low on this personality scale tend to be unconcerned with orderly settings or schedules, avoid difficult tasks or ambitious goals, are content with their work even if it contains errors, and often make decisions on impulse or without reflection.
Openness to experience
People who have a very high Openness to experience are absorbed in the beauty of art and nature, are interested in various fields of knowledge, freely use their imagination in everyday life, and are interested in unusual ideas or people. On the other hand, people with very low scores on this personality scale are insensitive to most works of art, feel little intellectual curiosity, avoid creative searches and are not interested in ideas that may seem radical or unconventional.
The latest HEXACO-PI-R personality test (HEXACO Personality Inventory-Revised) also distinguishes the interdimensional Altruism scale. It evaluates the tendency to compassion and a soft heart towards others. Highly altruistic people avoid harm and are willing to help the weaker ones, while people with low scores on this scale (highly antagonistic people) do not care about hurting others and may be perceived as having a hard heart. Part of the Altruism aspect is the Honesty-Humility, Emotionality and Agreeableness dimensions.
A sense of locus of control
Locus of control is a personality trait that indicates how we interpret the causes of various events. People with an internal locus of control believe that they control their own lives and what happens to them depends on themselves. On the other hand, people with an external locus of control believe that they have no influence on the events in their lives and explain their successes and failures with external factors such as luck, bad luck or other people.
Emotional Intelligence is the ability to recognize, understand and manage the emotions of oneself and others, and according to the Goleman model, it consists of four aspects:
- Self-awareness – the ability to recognize your own emotions, understand what causes them and know your strengths and weaknesses.
- Social awareness – the ability to sense and understand other people’s emotions.
- Self-regulation – the ability to keep destructive emotions under control and the ability to adapt to different situations, seize opportunities and achieve goals despite difficulties.
- Relationship management – the ability to maintain good relationships with other people, resolve conflicts, motivate others, and have a good ability to work in a team and lead a group of people.
How has remote teamwork changed personality?
The authors of the study, analyzing the results, noticed that group work “alleviates” extreme personality traits, that is, people who had low scores on a given personality scale obtained higher scores after the course, and those who had high scores before the start of the course, they had lower when finished. So they moved towards the middle of the scale, conforming to the characteristics of the majority of society. This suggests that when working in a team, many people are able to adapt their personality to the characteristics of other group members in order to achieve the appropriate balance on the team level.
Although most of the differences in personality trait change were statistically insignificant, significance was demonstrated for three aspects of the HEXACO personality model, namely students generally became more extroverted and open to experience, and interestingly less altruistic.
During discussions with the instructors after the completion of the course, many students admitted that the course was different from what they were used to in their studies. In other classes at the beginning of the semester, they divided the tasks between individuals and at the end of the semester they put together the work of all people in one final report. Here, however, daily quizzes and short deadlines required them to really interact with the group. They noticed that the more people working on a given problem, the better, and that it was worth hearing other people’s views on a given issue. They had to learn how to communicate effectively and express their opinions so that it served the overriding goals of the group. This can cause extraversion and openness to experience to increase.
Some also admitted that they had a person in the group who, when asked about ideas for solving various problems, rarely got involved, but when the deadline came, he/she sent a lot of messages asking for help. This may explain why many people have decreased altruism. Everyone who had to work with such a person quickly concluded that if someone was not involved in the work of the team, they would not receive help.
It was also observed that agreeableness is related to the results of the course participants in the final exam. The more agreeableness increased in a given person, the worse their performance in the exam was. This may be due to the fact that people who did not want to engage in discussions and present their point of view, only agreed with everything, did not derive so much knowledge and skills from teamwork.
The authors of the study also checked whether the team personality changed, measured as the average of the results of members of a given group. It turned out that after the end of the course, the openness to experience increased, and the altruism and self-awareness of the group decreased. Moreover, reducing self-awareness at the team level meant better team results in the final exam, as did increasing relationship management skills.
Team-level self-awareness requires a lot of empathy and is defined as understanding the emotions in the group to which we belong. The results of the study suggest that the high intensity of the course and the constant checking of the knowledge and effects of the team’s work meant that there was no time for too much empathy and too much altruism, especially in relation to people who were not involved in the group’s work. Responsibility, effective communication, and working out solutions together were more important, and those who could develop personality traits that favored it did better.
The results of the study prove that our personality is not constant and if the tasks ahead of us require it, we can often (consciously or unconsciously) change certain personality traits. It is not known how permanent these changes are. Did the students start to behave similarly in other life situations as well, or did they quickly return to what they were like before the start of the course?
- Swart W., Siguaw J. A. (2020). The Transformational Impact of Intense Virtual Teamwork Experiences on Team Member Psychometrics: An Exploratory Study, American Journal of Management, 20(1), 126-146 (pdf na articlegateway.com)
- The HEXACO Personality Inventory
- Emotional Intelligence Frameworks, Charts, Diagrams & Graphs
Author: Maja Kochanowska