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Can psychometric profiling build more effective construction teams?

Psycho-blogPsychometric profiling tools are becoming increasingly popular in construction.  I have seen them being used for team selection, teambuilding and sometimes even conflict resolution. This is quite a progressive move for an industry that is notoriously suspicious of anything ‘soft and fluffy’. I sense that more managers are starting to recognise that behaviours are one of the critical factors that will affect the success of the project.

The question is whether these instruments actually help the team to become more effective?  The key point about psychometrics is that they provide information about an individual that is not on their c.v.  The test data allows you to gain a bit more of an insight into how an individual prefers to work, their likely interaction with others, and how they may react under stress.

However, I think that it is really important to understand that all you’re getting are clues to someone’s potential behaviour.   Psychometric data is not evidence.  There are too many variables around the circumstances of any particular individual as they take the test.

Do they really understand how to complete the questions? Are they completing the questions slowly and deliberately, or rushing through them just to get the test completed?

Many people have now taken these tests several times in different stages of their career and are becoming more aware of how to skew their responses to fit a particular profile.   I have therefore always been a little unsure as to the validity of personality profiling as a tool for selecting people for a role, except in those circumstances where the job requires some very specific attributes.

In construction the primary selection criteria are usually technical competence and then cost, which tends to narrow the field of potential applicants. I would concede that when you are trying to make choices on the best individual for the job, the more information that you have the better. My point is that psychometric testing should provide secondary rather than primary data.

I am however a big fan of using psychometrics for team development. The challenge for any group assembled as part of a construction project is that they need to build trust quickly.   Sharing test data amongst each of the team members is a great way of helping them understand their differences and how these might be reflected in the behaviours that they will start to observe in each other.

This is a great way to start the trust building process.

There are however some important factors to consider if this investment in time is to pay off. I believe the tests should to be used as a standard part of the setup process for any substantial construction project.  The test instrument used should be reasonably quick and easy to administer, and should not be too complex to explain. The workshop needs to be well facilitated, as the objective is to get team members sharing and discussing their similarities and differences. It is not a training session. A psychometric workshop should involve a lot of noise.

Getting a group of cynical individuals to engage with an exercise like this can sometimes be hard work, but with the right structure and direction these workshops can be a lot of fun, and will have more impact on building trust then can be gained from many of the standard teambuilding activities.   Using psychometrics, whether as part of team selection or as team development has a cost; partly in hiring the right expertise and also in the time of the participants.

It is therefore a judgment call as to whether this is a worthwhile investment. It is worth remembering however that the analyses of project failures repeatedly point to the problems caused by low levels of coherence within a team, and the lack of time spent in setting up the project.  My research and my experience tells me that time spent with fellow team members learning about behaviours could have a significant impact once the project gets under full steam.

Tony Llewellyn trained as quantity surveyor, and was a partner at Davis Langdon, and a director at AECOM. He has spent the last three years absorbed in the art and science of behavioural change. He believes that most construction teams have the potential to work as a collaborative unit, but sometime they need a little help.

Brendan Morahan

Brendan Morahan is an experienced construction project and business leader.

He has led teams delivering annual turnover of £400m, and led business growth during economic downturns.

As Executive Board Director at Taylor Woodrow Construction, Brendan led a focus on value as opposed to volume, helping the company win BAA’s 10-year £6.9bn capital framework, as well as managing the successful integration of acquisitions into the group.

An experienced and committed proponent of collaborative working and long-term commercial relationships, he knows what can make – or break – the fortunes of a successful business.

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