Wednesday, January 2, 2013

MBTI - 3 ways McKinsey teams think about and (mis)use personality types

McKinsey teams use MBTI personality types as a short-hand for understanding individual preferences and team dynamics.  In this post I'll review a few ways McKinsey consultant typically think about MBTI.  These are not necessarily how an expert on MBTI would apply this framework, but the McKinsey person in your life still might think in some of these ways


As in many of my posts, I'm going to make some broad generalizations, but they are based on behaviors I've seen across many consultants and partners on many client engagement teams.  Not everyone at McKinsey thinks this way about MBTI or uses the framework in this way, but these tendencies are certainly not rare.

McKinsey consultants will also talk in terms of being "a strong X" or "barely Y" where X and Y are MBTI preference like I, E, N, S, T, F, J, or P, often based on their MBTI scores (e.g., "I'm a strong E", "I'm a slight F").  However, this, also, is not necessarily an appropriate application of the framework.

MBTI and the Team Kickoff or "Team Ready" meetings

Many McKinsey teams will start a client engagement by having a meeting to discuss how everyone prefers to work and align on what the team's working style will be.  At these kickoff, or "Team Ready" meetings, each of the team members will typically share what their strengths are, what opportunity areas they're working on, what their working style preferences are, and their MBTI personality type.  The MBTI personality types are used as a shortcut to understand how team members like to work and how they can best work with each other.

How some people and teams interpret MBTI preferences...

1.  N vs. S

Consultants with a preference for iNtuition are often considered more strategic, "big picture" problem solvers who are able to "think 80/20".  This is generally perceived to be a positive trait at a firm where we work on a lot of top-down, strategic issues.  It is sometimes assumed that Ns are better at pattern recognition, out-of-the-box thinking, and drawing conclusions from larges sets of information.  The downside is that someone who is a "strong N" might be thought of as being too far removed from the critical nuts and bolts of a problem or lacking attention to detail.

Those with a preference for Sensing are in the opposite situation.  Teams will assume great attention to detail - as a result, a "strong S" is more likely to be trusted to own the primary Excel model for a client engagement.  Common negative perceptions of the "strong S" are that they think too tactically, can't see the forest for the trees, and miss "big picture" connections and solutions.

2.  T vs. F

McKinsey consultants overindex on the preference for Thinking.  This makes sense for a Firm that encourages logical thinking and structured problem-solving.  As a result, many Ts will assume they will get along better and can rely more on other Ts.

However, Ts are also assumed to be more transactional, less tactful, and less thoughtful of the feelings of others.  As a result, many McKinsey consultants believe there is value in having at least one F around to "keep the team honest" when it comes to interpersonal interactions, especially with clients.  If you are an F, it might help you to understand that McKinsey colleagues might value or even rely on your gentle reminders to consider the feelings of others.  Examples of how Fs can contribute to teams include:
  • Engage with others before getting down to business (e.g., ask about someone's weekend before asking them for some data)
  • Be genuine with engaging with others (e.g., avoid coming across like you're "checking the box" when you ask about someone's weekend)
  • Consider how your audience will react to information (e.g., think about how to word bad news to make it more palatable)
  • Give positive feedback, especially to clients (e.g., give a client credit for a great analysis in front of their boss) because not everyone is used to a steady diet of negative feedback
  • Remember that not everyone works for McKinsey (e.g., don't expect a client to work over the weekend)


3.  J vs. P

People with a Judging preference are assume to be more organized and better at planning both in their personal and professional lives.  If you have a clean desk and keep your notes and files well-organized, your team will assume you're a J.  Because of these associations, Js are assumed to be superior to Ps when it comes to process and structured problem solving.  Conversely, Ps are assumed to be less organized and structured.  As a result, Js will be more trusted when it comes to tasks like workplanning.

Unfortunately, there are plenty of negative connotations that come with a preference for Perceiving.  Ps are assumed to be messy, disorganized, and unstructured.  I also can't come up with any positive assumptions McKinsey teams make about Ps.  If you're a P, at best, rather than getting angry with you when you forget to do something, your teammates will simply chalk it up to your Perceiving nature.  The good news is that your team will be less likely to ask you to make dinner reservations, call in the team's lunch order, or organize team events.

This brings to mind an infamous quote regarding Ps.  Supposedly, a female McKinsey Partner once told an especially sloppy, disorganized male Business Associate that "your P-ness is really starting to become a problem for me."  Apparently it took her a few beats to realize how that sounded!


The better you understand how McKinsey consultants view your MBTI personality type, the more effectively you can work with them.  If you know they're inclined to trust you more with certain types of work, you can leverage that into more opportunities or responsibilities.  If you understand what reservations they might have about your abilities, you can proactively address their concerns and show them that they can rely on you.

To learn more about your own MBTI personality type and MBTI in general, please see my earlier post on the topic


  1. Hi. Thanks for writing this. Are there many "P" type in McKinsey?

  2. Interesting. But don't you think that P, F, S people are quite valuable for senior level managers at Mck?


  3. McKinsey consultants obviously are not representative of the population as a whole. What would you say an approximate breakdown of the personality types are at McKinsey?

  4. I really needed the information like that, I don’t think so I have to go anywhere for further information when I’ve got all info at one place.

  5. Trying to pigeonhole the world's 7 billion people into 16 slots is McKinsey-stupid.

    1. Ironically there are many that feel that 16 is too many. There are many common "systems" that use 12, 9 or even 4.

  6. i was looking to buy the smartphone for rs 251 you can get it with doing register for freedom 251 phone online and get a chance to use amazing features.