To Make Your Team “Click,” Uncover Their Instinctive Drives

June 13, 2013

1:00 pm

In typical companies, it takes 12 to 18 months for a team to “click”: to harmonize and fully trust each other so they’re operating at peak performance, says Paul Burgess. When team members take his Instinctive Drives test, learn their four instinctive drives, and get a bit of coaching, it takes 4 to 6 weeks.

“99.9 percent of people walk into work every morning wanting to do a good job, wanting to collaborate with other people, wanting to keep teams moving. And then slowly as you go through your day, this ‘wall of trust’ gets thrown up and you’re not sure why everybody’s doing what they’re doing,” says head of technology John Pearson. “The ID gives everybody a common language to be able to talk about all those things.”

When Burgess dipped his toes into this subject over 20 years ago, he wasn’t trying to create a personality test. He was just extremely curious about why people did what they did. He, for example, would promise to do things with every good intention but still end up breaking his promise, and he wanted to know why. What force was overriding his intelligence?

The clue came in the form of his two children. With the same parents and relatively similar genes, they still ended up as different as chalk and cheese, he recalls. He would try to train one to act a certain way, but they strongly resisted, even at a young age. Obviously, something besides “nurture” was driving their behavior, and he wondered if it might be instinct.

With this hypothesis in mind, Burgess spent months talking to hundreds of people. He drilled deep into their motivations, asking “why?” over and over. His exchanges went something like this:

“Why are you an entrepreneur?”

“Because I don’t want to work for anyone else.”

“Why don’t you want to work for anyone else?”

“Because I want to direct my own projects.”

“Why do you want to direct your own projects?”

“Because I like to make things up as I go, and be free to pursue whatever interesting opportunities come up.”

Turns out, when you dig deep enough, all roads lead to four instinctive drives:

  • Verify: The drive to compare, clarify, have a justification, be reassured.
  • Complete: The drive to have structure and routines, have advanced notice, have enough time to finish, and to see how pieces fit together.
  • Authenticate: The drive for hands-on involvement, honest communication, visualization, and making things real.
  • Improvise: The drive for change and new challenges, pressure that motivates, and possibilities (as in the entrepreneur above).

Burgess searched far and wide for a fifth drive, but he came up empty-handed. Which was disappointing to him, since many major personality tests have four dimensions, such as Myers-Briggs or DISC. But Burgess still feels confident that Instinctive Drives is unique. It aims to measure your instincts, after all, not the way you normally behave or act.

The theory is that many people act in ways that are contrary to their instincts in order to get along with society, their bosses, or their families. The result, however, is that we feel like fish out of water because our natural needs aren’t being met. But if we honor our instinctive drives, we get satisfaction, productivity, and success – in business and in personal relationships.

After administering the test for two decades through a company called Link-up International, Burgess has concluded that the test has excellent “face validity.” This is a term psychological scientists use to describe a test that looks like it’s doing its job; in other words, participants always find it remarkably accurate. For example, in a test of 3,000 accountants, the Instinctive Drives test revealed that 84 percent had the verify drive, and over 80 percent avoided the improvise drive.

So the Instinctive Drives test has gone public. What was once available only to the company’s private consulting clients, such as Cisco, Oracle, and Sun Microsystems, is now online for $99. It’s a 30-minute quiz, beginning with multiple-choice questions on everything from how you learn and what environments you succeed in to how you give gifts and what stresses you out. Then you fill out a few open-ended questions about key issues you’re facing and what lingering questions you have about yourself. After you hit submit, a report is delivered to your inbox with 14 pages of detailed information about your talents and vulnerabilities, and strategies to address them.

For each drive, you get a score from 1-9; a score of 6-9 means you follow that drive, while a score of 1-4 means you avoid it. My type, for example, is 8671: I verify, authenticate, complete, and avoid improvising. That happens to be a perfectionist type, so I was described like this:

“You drive for perfection and need to eliminate all the risks of things going wrong, including the risk of failure, mistakes, embarrassment, loss and being caught out in any way, a process which gets compromised when you feel rushed or pressured, negatively impacting your best performance (Improvise). For this reason, unless highly confident in those around you, you will often do things yourself (Authenticate) and so eliminate the risks attached to involving others (Improvise).”

Throughout my report, I found myself nodding my head and smiling knowingly. In fact, some of the statements were downright shocking; how could they know, for example, that I stay quiet during meetings because I haven’t fully formulated my ideas? I read about my needs, which include feedback, purpose, certainty, and candidness. I read about my talents, like dependability, an even-keeled approach, and anticipating the future. And I read about my vulnerabilities, like being resistant to change, critical, and quiet. Only a few points were slightly off.

Although 14 pages may seem like a lot to process, Burgess insists that implementing Instinctive Drives in a company or a startup is not complicated. Unsurprisingly, he says, it’s best for cofounders to have complementary drives. A genuine entrepreneur will improvise and avoid completing – that’s the risk taking part – but he should pair up with someone who plans and makes sure to get tasks done.

To help team members work together, Instinctive Drives also offers an interactive tool: just input two IDs, and it will automatically generate recommendations on how to speak each other’s language. For example, non-authenticaters have to realize that authenticaters need a higher level of detail when planning a project. They don’t read between the lines, so they’ll ask detail questions to get a full understanding. Non-authenticaters shouldn’t interpret this as suspicion or a lack of trust.

Every meeting should include a completer, who’ll be the one writing things down. And improvisers should be wary of their urge to say yes to everything, then figure out later how to make it work. If you tend to overcommit to things, you might be an improviser.

But most important, Burgess says, is to avoid the weakness that every single ID has: the tendency to view your ID as superior. For teams to work, members have to accept and respect their differences. If you try to fit other people into your own mold, you’ll only wind up alienating or frustrating them.

After all, says Burgess, you cannot change your ID. In his longitudinal studies lasting over 20 years, he claims that no one’s ID has ever changed (even if their behavior has). What’s more, he says, there’s no reason to want to change your ID because every type has its strengths and weaknesses. The key is harnessing the former and mitigating the latter.

If you’re wondering where IDs come from, the answer is: they don’t know. Even identical twins can have different IDs. If you’re religious like Burgess, you might say they’re God-given gifts, a sort of “mental thumbprint.”

Now that he knows his type – 8147 – Burgess understands himself a lot better. The 8 was what drove him to figure out the four instinctive drives and reject 20 versions of the assessment test before arriving at the current one. The 7 explains why, after preparing a beautiful presentation, he would get up on stage and find completely new words to say. Now, he doesn’t feel guilty for that; nor does he feel guilty for his playful nature, which he once thought was “immature.” And with a 50-person team all following their Instinctive Drives, he gets to operate every day at a 9-10 in happiness, energy, and performance. And that’s not something most of us can say.

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Kira M. Newman is a Tech Cocktail writer interested in the harsh reality of entrepreneurship, work-life balance, and psychology. She is the founder of The Year of Happy and has been traveling around the world interviewing entrepreneurs in Asia, Europe, and North America since 2011. Follow her @kiramnewman or contact

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