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.