July 13, 2024

I have taken many different personality and strength assessments over the years. Myers-Briggs, Grip-Birkman, MinistryStyles, StrengthsFinder, DiSC, Enneagram, and 5 Voices are a few that stick out. Part of my motivation in taking these assessments was to evaluate their effectiveness. I wanted to see how well they helped team members understand one another better. Would they help us in our training of new cross-cultural workers? But I have to admit a big part of my motivation was just my innate curiosity to understand myself better.

Shortcomings of personality assessments

Each of these assessments has their strengths. I have learned something from each of them about how I am wired. They have helped me to understand the challenges I face in working with colleagues of different personalities.

But none of the ones above helped me understand what specific personalities / strengths are needed on a team. How do the different personalities work together to accomplish the work of innovating, developing, launching and finishing a project? None of them helped me clearly identify what parts of a project I personally would find most frustrating and what type of tasks I would find most fulfilling.

Therefore, I am grateful for the work that Patrick Lencioni and his team have put into developing the “Working Genius” model. It has helped me to see what parts of my role are going to be most fulfilling to me. I also learned what parts I am able to do reasonably well, but eventually will prove to be draining. Just as importantly, I see what kinds of work I should not be doing, both for the good of the team and for my own well-being.

Actually, another assessment which I facilitated for a leadership team a number of years ago does bear some clear similarities to the Working Genius model. I am referring to the Belbin Team Roles. Rather than 6 types of working genius, Belbin has 9 different team roles. Some of these roles are quite similar to the Working Geniuses. But the Belbin assessment is more expensive, more complicated to administer and significantly more difficult to understand and apply. One of the beauties of the Working Genius model is its simplicity and how easy it is to identify one’s geniuses.

The 6 Types of Working Genius is the fastest way to help people identify the type of work that brings them joy and energy, and avoid work that leads to frustration and burnout.

Amazon.com page for “The 6 Types of Working Genius”

The six types of Working Genius

Lencioni uses the word “genius” to denote what type of work you do easily and enthusiastically because it gives you joy and energy. Others may find this particular type of work to be frustrating and draining. But you enjoy it and you do it well. That is your genius.

Lencioni’s team identified six broad categories or types of work, each of which is dependent on the other types.

These six Working Geniuses are described below.1 These description come from the Working Genius website.

  1. Wonder – The natural gift of pondering the possibility of greater potential and opportunity in a given situation.
  2. Invention – The natural gift of creating original and novel ideas and solutions.
  3. Discernment – The natural gift of intuitively and instinctively evaluating ideas and situations.
  4. Galvanizing – The natural gift of rallying, inspiring and organizing others to take action.
  5. Enablement – The natural gift of providing encouragement and assistance for an idea or project.
  6. Tenacity – The natural gift of pushing projects or tasks to completion to achieve results.

Two geniuses per person

Although not absolutely essential, Lencioni’s team put together a helpful Working Genius assessment. This relatively simple and inexpensive tool helps each team member identify their working geniuses. The assessment also identifies areas of competency and areas of frustration.

After reviewing thousands of assessments, Lencioni and his team have concluded that generally each person has two geniuses. Each of us also have two areas of competency and two areas of frustration. Understandably, a person gains greatest satisfaction and fulfilment when working in the areas of one’s genius. One can also do a good job in the areas of one’s competencies. Although over time, if one spends all their time working in an area of competency, the job becomes draining. If your work requires you to spend a lot of time at work in an area of frustration, the job quickly becomes very – well, – frustrating and exhausting.

In fact, this model has helped me to gain a new perspective on the phenomenon of burn-out. Rather than thinking that a victim of burn-out has too much to do, I now tend to look more at the type of work this person is doing. Burn-out is probably less about the volume of work, and more about the type of work we do.2 See Podcast episode 14 – The Truth About Burnout.

All 6 types are essential

I found this way of thinking about the different parts of work to be so helpful that I asked each one of my team members to complete the assessment as well. As we have talked about the Working Genius model, we have clearly identified what genius is missing from our team. We understand why it is important for us to add a person or people with this genius to our team.

How does the Working Genius model differ from spiritual gifts inventories or strengths assessments? Like these, the Working Genius model helps us understand and appreciate our differing abilities. But it goes beyond that. It shows us to see why any team or project needs all six different geniuses in order to get work done.

Each genius is needed at a certain time

Furthermore, there is a logical sequence when each working genius needs to “show up” in the natural progression of getting work done.

The first 2 geniuses (Wonder and Invention) are in the ideation phase of work. Then in the activation stage, the Discernment and Galvanizing geniuses are most needed. They take the ideas generated in the first phase, refine them and inspire the team to adopt and rally around the new idea. Finally, in the implementation phase, Enablement and Tenacity shine. In this stage the idea becomes reality, and the team needs their geniuses to work together to complete the project.

Generally, in most workplaces, we will need more people with Enablement and Tenacity than we need people with Wonder and Invention. But each genius is needed for the overall project. Each needs to come to the fore at a particular stage of the work. While the Wonder and Invention geniuses are most prominent in the early stages, they actually need to take more of a back seat in the later stages. It is not helpful to keep suggesting new ideas when the implementation is already well under way.

A fable to help explain the model

In typical Lencioni fashion, he has written a fable describing the 6 types of working genius. I recently finished the book and found it very helpful in reinforcing and deepening my understanding of the model. The name of the book is The 6 Types of Working Genius: A Better Way to Understand Your Gifts, Your Frustrations, and Your Team.

In the fable, a young entrepreneur who has been managing his own company is realizing that his “Sunday blues” are coming back. Although he has a great team, he is once more experiencing frustration at work, just as he had in previous places of employment. In seeking to understand why he has lost his joy at work, his team and he come to recognize that there are six different types of work. Different people in the company enjoy different phases of the work. As a result, they reassign roles to allow each person (including the boss) to spend as much time as possible in their areas of genius.

This fable actually closely resembles the story of how Pat Lencioni and the Table Group discovered the Working Genius model. Their discovery was prompted by Lencioni’s own desire to understand his personal frustrations at work.

Even before Pat Lencioni wrote the book, the Table Group had already set up a website. This website explained the model, sold the assessment, and in time provided resources and training for using the assessment. Then they launched a Working Genius podcast which further explained how to use the model in a place of work.

Is the Working Genius a fit for your team?

Is the Working Genius going to be helpful for every team? It is important to recognize that this model best fits those teams that actually collaborate on work projects. If the completion of your project or task requires the participation of every team member and includes many different functions, then the Working Genius is for you. In the teaming language that our organization is using, the Working Genius best suits “basketball teams.”

On the other hand, maybe your team is a leadership team that only comes together for reporting and making decisions. In this case, the Working Genius will not be particularly insightful. Or maybe your team is basically a group of people who work separately and independently. You only come together for mutual encouragement and support, not to work on projects together. Again, in this case the Working Genius is not going to super helpful.

So, if you are a team that works together closely to accomplish a big task, I would encourage you to take the Working Genius assessment. If you are a part of SEND International, I will be glad to administer the assessment and do a debrief with your team.

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