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Leveraging Team Personalities

By Ignacio Suarez

A Civil Affairs Team support Gabonese partner nation in counter illicit trafficking operations. Photo courtesy of Sgt. Sharifa Newton.

Civil Affairs Teams (CATs) are some of the smallest tactical teams to operate independently in the US Army. The small size of CATs coupled with the diverse and ever evolving nature of our missions creates many unique challenges for the teams. In particular, the establishment of clear roles and responsibilities for CAT members requires careful analysis of both the team members and the mission. The baseline roles are outlined in doctrine and in the Civil Affairs Qualification Course (CAQC); The CPT serves as the Team Leader, the E-7 serves as the Team Sergeant, E-6 serves as a Civil Affairs NCO, and your SOCM medic or 68W serve as your team medic. According to the CAQC and Unit SOPs, conventionally the Team Leader is responsible for planning operations, the Team Sergeant focuses on resources and logistics, the Civil Affairs NCO (CANCO) focuses on Civil Information Management (CIM) and the team Medic focuses on the medical aspect. As with many aspects of Civil Affairs, these responsibilities are accompanied by an asterisk denoting that they may vary depending on the mission sets and requirements, and are at the team’s discretion to adapt as they see best fit to accomplish their given mission. During my last deployment my Team Sergeant took all responsibility in regards to coordination with a partner force because she had formed a working relationship with their senior NCO that I could not have duplicated. So how do you assign the roles and responsibilities within your team to best accomplish your mission?

On a CAT, roles and responsibilities should be assigned by taking the strengths and weaknesses of each team member, as well as their individual personality types, into account. Utilizing the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) to determine the personality types of CAT members can help leaders to better assign roles and responsibilities within their teams. The MBTI identifies 16 personality types based on a combination of four personality trait spectrums. These personality traits spectrums include Introversion vs Extroversion, Sensing vs Intuitive, Feeling vs Thinking and Judging vs Perceiving[1]. The personality traits are not “either/ or”, instead they exist on a spectrum and are relative to the individual and their environment. For the purpose of this article we will discuss a team member’s dominant trait, or the trait they have a higher percentage of. Understanding the difference between these personality types can help better assign roles and responsibilities within the team.

Understanding the difference between an introverted and extroverted team member can help a team leader best decide who to send to an important Subject Matter Expert Exchange (SMEE) or to a Key Leader Engagement (KLE) with a high-ranking foreign official. The MBTI identifies Introverts as individuals who focus on their internal world preferring to think about their ideas and valuing solitude over social gatherings[2]. Introverts can also become physically and mentally drained from extended social interactions, requiring time to recharge afterwards. Extroverts however focus primarily on the external world and feed off social interactions and group communication[3].

During Advanced Negotiations Training, the instructors presented the theory that the best personality type for a KLE are introverts as they are more effective at collecting relevant information in a timely and efficient manner due to their desire to minimize time spent socializing. They explained that because an introvert is normally uncomfortable and becomes drained during extended social engagements, they are more likely to focus on the list of necessary points and information to discuss and to complete that list quickly in order to end the social interaction in a timely manner. An extrovert, on the other hand, is more likely to become engrossed in the conversation, feeding off social interaction, resulting in less adherence to their original engagement plan. Consequently, an extrovert might double the length of a civil engagement while only gathering half of their desired information. Understanding this difference a team can assign the more introverted members of the team as leads for KLEs, ensuring a more effective and efficient engagement, while reserving the extroverted members of the team for Subject Matter Expert Exchanges (SMEEs). During these SMEEs, the extroverted team members are more likely to engage a greater number of the participants as they feed off of the energy of the social interactions, effectively building greater networks while gathering information from a majority of the participants. Leveraging the difference between introverts and extroverts during mission analysis will help teams to effectively accomplish their missions.

The next personality type is between sensing and intuitive personalities, focusing primarily on how the individuals gather information. A sensing personality type is drawn to facts and figures, focusing on tangible results and data to lead their thinking[4]. The intuitive personality tends to think in terms of theories and ideas, focusing on relationships and second and third order effects[5]. In the case of Civil Affairs Activities, a sensing personality would feel more comfortable in a Civil Reconnaissance (CR) environment, gathering quantitative data on civil infrastructure, social groups and other quantitative information. Similarly, an intuitive personality would feel more comfortable in a Civil Engagement (CE), attempting to identify and develop the relationship and social networks while considering the second and third order effects on the future. Certainly, in both CR and CE, it is important to focus on both quantitative and qualitative information, especially third order effects, but being able to prioritize the needed information can increase the effectiveness of that mission. When manning and mission permit, including a sensing and an intuitive personality on both CR and CE missions can ensure that both qualitative and quantitative information is gathered and a more robust Civil component of the Operating Picture is developed.

The difference in sensing and intuitive personality types also factors into the planning phase of operations. Intuitive personalities tend to excel at developing plans and determining the desired end state while sensing personalities excel in developing the steps necessary to reach the desired goals. For instance, a sensing personality would be effective in determining measures of performance (MOP) while an intuitive would excel in determining and tracking measures of effectiveness (MOE). Utilizing both personality types in unison throughout your planning and operations will lead to more successful missions and a more thorough Civil Information Management product.

The third personality type pertains to how people make decisions; categorizing personalities as either thinking or feeling. The MBTI identifies thinking personalities as those individuals that make decisions based primarily on logic and feeling personalities as those individuals that make decisions with an emphasis on how the decision will affect others and maintaining relationships[6]. A thinking personality would prove beneficial in the planning phase of training and tactical operations, ensuring everything logically supports the team’s efforts and that it directly contributes to mission success. The thinking personality would focus on the direct quantitative requirements, to include logistical considerations, and make decisions based primarily on logic that will lead to mission accomplishment. A feeling personality will however excel at leading the planning for a SMEE or for a Theater Security Cooperation (TSC) exercise, as they can focus on how that training or exercise would develop the relationship with the partner nation, despite what may appear as the logical decision. A feeling personality would understand that despite the logical decision of conducting training 8 hours a day during an exercise to maximize training potential, some partner nations do not train for that long and forcing them to would result in decreased overall participation and possibly reluctancy to train together in the future.

The final personality types are judging and perceiving - characteristics which differentiate between structured and spontaneous planners. Judging personality types are very organized, relying heavily on lists and set schedules, while perceiving personalities are spontaneous, reacting to changes as they come, and are sometimes impulsive[7]. The structured nature of a judging personality can prove beneficial to developing plans and ensuring that all required tasks are completed, however their rigid structure can lead them to be dismissive of new ideas or ineffective at handling change. Including a perceiving personality in the planning process can help identify any information gaps and can help adjust the plan for any unexpected changes. A perceiving personality can also excel in uncertain or constantly evolving environments, with their spontaneous and receptive nature allowing them to adapt the plan as necessary on the fly.

It is also important to note that these personality traits are not “either/ or”, instead they exist on a spectrum between the traits[8]. Understanding your team members and their personality types is an excellent way to maximize their abilities and efforts. Playing to a team member’s personality strengths can help increase the efficiency of your team and the probability of mission success. However, as leaders we must remember that we are also responsible for the growth and learning of our team members, and therefore should provide our team members with the opportunities to improve upon their weaknesses. This can be done with low threat operations and engagements or by pairing a weaker team member with a stronger team member.

[1] Charles R. Martin, Looking at Type: The Fundamentals (CAPT 1997) [2] Martin, Looking at Type. [3] Martin, Looking at Type. [4] Martin, Looking at Type. [5] Martin, Looking at Type. [6] Martin, Looking at Type. [7] Martin, Looking at Type. [8] Martin, Looking at Type.

About the Author:

CPT Suarez has served as a CA Team Leader for two deployments to Bahrain in support of NAVCENT. As a team leader working for NAVCENT, CPT Suarez leveraged his team and their capabilities to support broad spectrum operations across CENTCOM. These operations included SMEE with Partner Nation Forces and civil engagements with foreign fishermen in the maritime domain. Prior to Civil Affairs, CPT Suarez served as an Engineer Platoon Leader and Executive Officer.

The views expressed are the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of U.S. Army, the Department of Defense, or the U.S. Government.

1 comment

1 Comment

Matt Peterson
Matt Peterson
Jul 18, 2020

Excellent article! People rarely understand the built in niche talent people have due to personality traits.

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