Personality tests are comforting because they give us instant gratification, telling us if we’re extroverted or introverted, logical or creative. Although these quick-results quizzes tell us how we behave, almost all fail to explain why we behave the way we do. That’s why many business leaders are turning to the Enneagram, a personality tool with ancient roots, to learn more about their employees and how to best equip them for success. By relying on a person’s inner thoughts and feelings rather than behavior to classify an individual into one of the system’s nine numbered types, the Enneagram decodes the motivations behind behavior, identifies strengths and cautions against potential vulnerabilities.
In an office setting, this insight can explain why some collaborators need more time to process information than others, why some people monopolize meetings, and how to reach the employees who never speak up. Co-workers who possess Enneagram knowledge understand each other’s intentions, which can go a long way in resolving conflict or preventing it, and supervisors can task employees in a way that sets them up for success.
These benefits make it tempting to want to “type” your co-worker, but Enneagram teacher and coach Casey McCollum, who helps executives and leaders of organizations improve their team dynamics through the Enneagram, emphasizes that observed behavior and internal motivations are not the same. “Two different Enneagram types can do the exact same thing for different reasons,” McCollum says. “You have to get below that behavior to motivation to figure out your type, and that requires a journey of self-discovery.” Choosing an individual’s Enneagram number, it turns out, is only effective if it’s an inside job.
Which number are you? Read on to discover which type you identify with most, what action steps you can take today to get more done, and where you should go from here.
Type One: The Perfectionist
Motivated by: Being ethical and right
Fears: Being wrong
On the surface, Type Ones are the employees with neat and tidy offices, but Ones are not just limited to perfection in their surroundings. These detail-oriented workers thrive with to-do lists and love routine, and their tolerance for tedious work makes them the office go-to for difficult tasks. Since they can always be counted on, they have very little patience with team members who don’t follow through, and their black and white thinking makes them prone to resentment and slow to offer forgiveness. Ones cannot stand it when someone breaks or bends the rules and, if they do so themselves, will struggle strongly with self-criticism. Ones can seem demanding, but only because they expect of their co-workers what they expect of themselves: commitment to constant personal and corporate improvement.
Ideal work environment: Rewards and consequences are doled out fairly
Productivity-boosting tip: Be OK with good enough
Productivity-busting habit to watch out for: Procrastination until perfection
Type Two: The Helper
Motivated by: Being needed
Twos are sometimes referred to as the office “mom” or “dad” because of their warm dispositions and tendency to know what’s going on in everyone’s personal lives. They are the co-workers who ask to see vacation photos, have intel on whose marriage is on the rocks, and bring baked goods to share. Like a good parent, they intuit their co-workers’ needs well and find themselves the sounding board for co-workers who need to vent or ask for help. This makes Twos caring leaders and excellent customer service reps, but can also hinder efficiency. Twos love open office settings and group work, but they’ll work much faster without the distraction of a budding office friendship.
Ideal work environment: Interpersonal sharing is valued
Productivity-boosting tip: Set boundaries
Productivity-busting habit to watch out for: Gossip
Type Three: The Achiever
Motivated by: Appearing successful
Fears: Being exposed as a failure
Threes are the teammate everyone wants for the annual company volleyball tournament—not necessarily because of their athleticism, but because they’re always out to win. This winning drive comes in handy in performance-based positions like sales, but also in schmoozing clients, as Threes can turn on the charm and make friends with just about anyone. Their first impressions are hard to beat and, in an interview, Threes have a way of making past failures look like success. Threes are a momentum-building asset to any team, but they also have a tendency to cut corners and run over co-workers in the name of results, so accountability is key.
Ideal work environment: Success is recognized and rewarded
Productivity-boosting tip: Celebrate wins
Productivity-busting habit to watch out for: Workaholism
Type Four: The Individualist
Motivated by: Expressing uniqueness
Fears: Being ordinary
Fours are the big idea people, thanks to their creative or artistic streak. They’re often misunderstood as eccentric or dramatic, but their unconventional approach to life is what makes them so effective. Authenticity is paramount to them, and because of this they can’t help but call out half-truths and serve as the office “BS monitor.” Fours are very comfortable with sadness—their office Spotify list is likely flush with ballads—and so melancholy and moody behavior comes with the territory. They’re not like the rest of their co-workers, which, to them, is a relief.
Ideal work environment: Room to express individuality
Productivity-boosting tip: Create rituals to stay on track
Productivity-busting habit to watch out for: Drama, drama, drama
Type Five: The Thinker
Motivated by: Knowledge and competence
Fears: Being thought of as ignorant
Fives are the co-worker who says nothing during an hour-long meeting and then sends an email with follow-up thoughts a day or two later. Because they long to be informed, Fives don’t speak up until they have a chance to process information, preferring instead to listen rather than jump right in. Gathering information is their passion and it makes them an invaluable resource for companies who need an in-house expert. An open office setting would rapidly exhaust their limited energy, but Fives don’t need much more than a quiet space and the autonomy to learn at their own pace. They don’t crave the corner office; they crave independence.
Ideal work environment: Solo with minimal interruptions
Productivity-boosting tip: Set a time limit for research without action
Productivity-busting habit to watch out for: Isolation from the team
Type Six: The Guardian
Motivated by: Security and support
Fears: Chaos, blame and fear itself
Sixes are the most loyal employees of all the Enneagram types, sometimes putting up with a difficult boss or lackluster salary for longer than they should. When it comes to meetings, they show up prepared. Their often witty and trustworthy demeanor makes them well-liked by the whole staff, but their self-doubt and “what if” questions can slow down a company’s forward motion. Sixes possess an uncanny ability to spot the potential worst-case scenarios in a business deal and good leaders will be patient enough to harness this superpower, rather than be annoyed by their seemingly negative outlook.
Ideal work environment: Clear responsibilities and trustworthy authority
Productivity-boosting tip: Set a time limit for your “what if” questions
Productivity-busting habit to watch out for: Indecisiveness
Type Seven: The Enthusiast
Motivated by: Happiness
Fears: Boredom, feeling trapped
Sevens light up a room. Ever in the pursuit of fun, they’re the co-worker who uses up every drop of their vacation days, invites the office staff over for a themed party, and impulsively buys a round for the table at happy hour. Sevens possess a popularity and enthusiasm that can speed up group projects and boost morale, but if left in charge, can sometimes send the group bouncing from task to task, leaving each one unfinished, in the name of FOMO.
Ideal work environment: Flexible and fun
Productivity-boosting tip: Finish what you start
Productivity-busting habit to watch out for: Impulsive choices and undisciplined schedule
Type Eight: The Boss
Motivated by: Protecting themselves
Fears: Being controlled
Eights run meetings even when they’re not in charge. Although their propensity to take over can seem condescending, their motivation is often founded in a selfless desire to help protect the mission or the co-workers at stake. Their natural ability to make fast-paced decisions paired with their thick-skinned personality makes them almost immune from worrying about what others think of their choices. Since conflict isn’t scary to them, they easily sniff out others’ weaknesses and can be powerful negotiators. To earn their respect, you’ll need to stand your ground and be willing to go toe-to-toe.
Ideal work environment: High risk, high impact
Productivity-boosting tip: Delegate and trust
Productivity-busting habit to watch out for: Bossing others around
Type Nine: The Peacemaker
Motivated by: Stability and peace of mind
Keeping the peace for a Nine is about preventing disconnection from others. Since they strive to go along with what others think or feel in order to not rock the boat, nines can be easy to get along with and assimilate well into a variety of office cultures. Leading a Nine means creating a safe space for their opinions, developing predictable routines, and providing margin for them to escape their duties after they clock out. Nines have the ability to see all sides of an issue, which makes them diplomatic mediators for divisive teams. Although they want no part in office politics, a lack of expression can manifest into passive aggression when left unchecked, so kindly demanding their honest feedback from time to time is necessary.
Ideal work environment: Predictable with low tension
Productivity-boosting tip: Prioritize tasks
Productivity-busting habit to watch out for: Holding back opinions
Feeling a little too seen? You’re not alone. The Enneagram has a tendency to make us peer into the parts of ourselves that we’ve gotten good at avoiding, but McCollum encourages his clients to press beyond that initial feeling of discomfort. “If the Enneagram is not making you more compassionate towards yourself and other people, then you’re using it wrong,” he says. “It’s a tool for self-awareness and understanding, of learning who I really am, and embracing and accepting the parts I might not like with grace and compassion.
If you’d like to continue the brave journey of learning more about yourself and your co-workers, McCollum strongly discourages online Enneagram quizzes or tests, and instead recommends reading the best-selling book The Road Back to You, by Enneagram master teacher Suzanne Stabile (McCollum’s personal mentor) and Ian Morgan Cron, or enlisting an experienced Enneagram coach to gently guide your staff in developing compassion for each other.
“There’s a great line that says culture eats strategy for lunch,” McCollum says. “No matter your strategy or forecast for income or goals for the next calendar year, culture is going to trump all of that. If you don’t have a culture of compassion and understanding in your organization, meeting those goals is going to be much more difficult.”
This article was published in August 2020 and has been updated.
Photo by @a_gubinskaya/Twenty20