Since time, immemorial human beings have been fascinated by understanding themselves and others. From analyzing their personalities through horoscopes to studying psychology, they have exerted many attempts to comprehend their own selves, their motivations and their behaviors as well as those of others. The question of why people do what they do is a core one that has perplexed several generations of psychiatrists and psychologists.
The Enneagram, as a model of the human psyche, was first invented in 1915 by the philosopher George Gurdjieff and came to the world in the 1960s through the teachings of Oscar Ichazo- also a philosopher- and Claudio Naranjo, a psychiatrist followed by several stages of development until it reached its current model. Enneagram is a culmination of numerous efforts to offer a rich map of personal development and self-awareness and highlights the set of coping mechanisms humans use to protect themselves.
Why are personality types relevant?
For many decades, type theories of personality have been very popular among managers and across organizations. For instance, the Myers Briggs type indicator (MBTI) has been the most widely used personality typing tool in the world with more than 3.5 million assessments administered each year. MBTI is a typology system that identifies the behavior and the character traits of individuals based on four categories: introversion versus extraversion, sensing versus intuition, thinking versus feeling, and judging versus perceiving. It classifies personalities into 16 types indicating differing psychological preferences in how people view the world and make decisions. According to Forbes, 80 percent of Fortune 100 companies use MBTI as a tool of self-awareness enabling employees to realize their full potential and be more effective in the workplace.
However, the Enneagram tends to be more complex in the sense that it uses a unique pattern of traits, behavior and implicit motives in distinguishing the personality types. It also explores the instinctual biases that determines people’s behavior and what individuals tend to focus on at work, and not just how people judge and perceive the world as with the MBTI. While the MBTI could be regarded as a profile of oneself, Enneagram could be described as both the explicit and implicit layers of oneself. Enneagram typing creates a higher sense of self-awareness as it reveals the emotions and the motivations behind certain patterns of behavior that sub-consciously compel people to act in certain ways.
Enneagram as a distinct typology and the nine types
The Enneagram word comes from the Greek word ennea meaning nine and the word gramma meaning something drawn or a diagram. As a typology, the Enneagram defines nine distinct personality types, which are represented by the points on a geometric figure known as the Enneagram. The lines connecting the different points on the diagram reflect connections between the different types. It is common to find a little of yourself in all nine types, however there is only one type that is closest to you and represents your basic personality type.
There are numerous online Enneagram typing tests, however the best method for Enneagram typing involves three main steps. First having some background of the Enneagram theory and literature, second working with a mentor or an Enneagram coach to help in assessment and providing feedback, and finally obtaining insights from questionnaires preferably led by an Enneagram professional.
“Enneagram is a tool that teaches people emotional intelligence,” says Azza Elbendary, chief of human resources and administration officer at Palm Hills Developments. “It investigates the ‘why’ behind the specific behaviors that people reveal, and gives insight into what fundamentally stimulates and engages others in a very precise way. This leads to better interactions among people and enables more effective and functioning teams.”
Each of the nine personality types is characterized by a set of dominant characteristics and behaviors that are very distinct from the other eight types.
Enneagram for business: building teams.
As the Enneagram describes nine different human maps of interpreting and perceiving both people and events, understanding those nine viewpoints enables us to understand other people’s needs and motivations and thus enhances relationships on both the personal and the professional levels.
Enneagram has started to be used by big corporations as well as small businesses worldwide as an approach for leadership development, understanding the team dynamics, teams staffing and conflict resolution.
“We have worked with many corporations in understanding the Enneagram types of their employees, their motives and avoidances, their strengths, challenges and development areas,” says Dina El Badry, Enneagram master trainer and coach, and International Enneagram Association accredited professional. “This has tremendously improved the way the employees see and understand themselves as well as the relationships and team dynamics within the workplace,” she adds.
By knowing how each type functions in a team, managers can optimize productivity by assigning tasks and building teams based on the Enneagram knowledge.
Type one is the perfectionist, purposeful, principled and self-controlled. For instance, type one brings principle and discipline to teams. Type ones are extremely efficient in detecting errors and ensuring quality as well as working towards a goal in the most ethical manner. Accordingly, these types of employees can be excellent in quality control jobs and can work best in teams when given a role where they can create structure and pragmatism towards a certain goal.
Type two is the helper, the giver, possessive and people pleaser. Type three is the image conscious, goal-oriented achiever and performer. Type four is the individualist, authentic, dramatic and self-absorbed.
Type five is the observer, thinker, innovative and isolated. For example, type five are great strategic thinkers who are talented in seeing the big picture and possess a great mental capacity to do extensive research and solve complex problems. As a result, they work better in teams when given a role that requires a sharp mental focus. They are excellent strategic planners and innovators.
Type six is the loyalist, anxious, questioner, and skeptic. Type seven is the visionary, enthusiast, spontaneous and scattered. Type eight is the leader, protector, challenger, and confrontational. Type nine is the peacemaker, mediator, receptive and complacent.
“As a type eight myself I work very well with type three,” says Elbendary. “Threes are very fast and efficient. Together we work very competently towards achieving organizational goals.”
Elbendary explains that studying Enneagram was such an eye opener for her especially at the workplace. “When I studied Enneagram it became evident to me why it is easier to work with some people more than others. It also enabled me to know how to deal with coworkers who are difficult to work with,” she shares.
She proceeds explaining how being mindful of the nine Enneagram personality types has helped her to ensure placement of the right people in the right place within the organization. For instance, employees in the learning and development department are mostly type seven. Sevens are visionaries who are full of enthusiasm and fun spirit. They are very good at motivating others, good at reframing and are spontaneous. They are talented in helping others to have fun and be light spirited while working very hard. For that reason, they are perfect candidates to work in the human resources department.
In addition, when team members understand the types of their colleagues, this helps to reduce judgments and criticism and build more understanding and tolerance. Also understanding coworkers’ challenges and weaknesses helps to reduce blame attitude and creates a framework for more acceptance of others and less conflict.
For instance, type six employees are great team players, and they bring a lot of dedication and hard work to the team. They are wonderful allies and are very loyal to the group. However, team members can be challenged by a type six colleague when he/she starts doubting the commitment of his/her teammates to a project and starts questioning and testing their loyalty and dedication. Understanding how type six thinks and how they are always driven by fears and doubts in all aspects of their lives will make other team members more understanding and accepting. When they understand that a certain attitude is not personal, but rather a behavior driven by an emotion of fear, this helps to build rapport and improve relationships.
With its depth and multilayered approach Enneagram is also a great resource for managers and leaders. As managers increasingly become aware of the limitations of their own point of view, they can learn that their own values and motivations could be very different from other people in their team and that their own lens of seeing and interpreting things could be very distinct from their team members. Leaders can also benefit from knowing their leadership style based on their Enneagram type and how others perceive it. Hence, it can be an eye opener for them that can help them effectively mentor and develop talent of their team members in a very personalized manner.
Since teams are the building blocks of any organization, working on teams has a propagating effect to the whole organization. Azza Elbendary explains that she set a training plan for the whole organization to learn Enneagram and that this has led to magnificent results. “Enneagram has created a new organization culture,” she says, “Employees are now talking to each other in the Enneagram language.” She adds that Enneagram helps them understand coworkers’ behaviors and take things less personally.
On the organization level, human resources experts, trainers and coaches perceive a good return on investment in such a tool that has the potential to decrease office politics, advance corporate productivity through increased individual integration.