Are corporations inherently selfish? Are they fiercely competitive by nature? Is survival of the fittest inbred?
Sigmund Freud and Darwin were convinced that man, as a social animal, is all of the above – selfish, competitive and bent on their survival over others. Current research has attempted to prove that corporations – being a collection of individuals - behave no differently. It’s in their DNA.
A recent article in the Harvard Business Review –“Personality tests can balance a team” – tries to makes the case that organizational behavior is a constant tension between “getting ahead” and “getting along” in the workplace. The result is a culture of discord, disorganization, and disassociation from corporate goals that can be perceived as anti-social, greedy, and self-centered – if unchecked.
To tame the beast, corporations rely on personality testing to determine who they hire, and what behavior they can expect. The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) is one tool that’s been in use for decades. Its 16 personality types have 4-letter labels to identity someone as extroverted, introverted, sensitive or critical, among several other characteristics. The stated philosophy behind the test is simple: if you know who you’re dealing with, you won’t be judgmental as this is just who they are. In other words, you can accurately anticipate their actions and reactions in the workplace.
With this test and others, businesses try to balance what they believe is their inherently aggressive nature by matching up various personality types to create healthy collaborative environments. Don’t build teams of introverted “types” and expect bold, innovative ideas. Don’t set up a department of extroverted “types” and expect easy compliance.
With their inherent selfish nature at play, and the tools to predict and control behavior, why do so many businesses fail, or suffer performance and retention problems?
The answer is that the “man is an animal” theory, and the control mechanisms devised to curb our so-called “basic instincts” are false.
Companies that peg their personnel as “types”, and operate on a personality “containment” philosophy crush their very soul by denying that anyone can be instinctively creative, sensitive and committed. This management approach believes than an employee is someone to keep in check, and redirect unhealthy impulses towards productive challenges. The result is an enforced culture of “co-operation” by matchmaking and restrictive labeling.
Myers-Briggs has been under criticism for over three decades for its widespread failure to help guarantee success within organizations, and for individual careers. Its popularity has been attributed to its “beguiling nature of the horoscope-like summaries of personality and steady marketing.” (Psychologist David Pittenger).
The truth is that there is no corporate beast to tame. There is only the creation of an open, affirming workplace that respects an individual’s inherent ability to create, contribute and commit, and makes the effort to construct worthwhile, socially responsible goals that people can relate to, and make their own.