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“Welcome to class, and by the way, when you review the course syllabus, you will see that one-third of your mark will come from group work.”

For many of us teaching in a postsecondary setting, the course syllabus review that includes a component of group work is met with discourse and protest. “I don’t know anyone in the class,” “I prefer to work independently,” and “I’ve had trouble with groups in the past” are comments that I have heard a lot while teaching business students; I know my colleagues have experienced similar reactions. I also know that there is tremendous value to be gained from group work, and the capabilities that students acquire from this work tend to be essential across career streams. So, with this in mind, let’s help students build their capacity to be stronger group collaborators who can both contribute to and enjoy working in teams and groups.

There are many strategies that help students build their capability to work in a group. Let me home in on the concept of personality intelligence as a capability to work better with others, build better relationships, and become more aware. Indeed, this type of intelligence is of value in the classroom, and it is highly valued in organizational settings in virtually all careers and jobs. 

Personality intelligence is a mental ability, and it speaks to an individual’s capacity to reason about one’s personality as a whole (Mayer, 2014). Being intelligent about our personalities helps us better understand our motivators, needs, interests, passions, values, emotions, and thoughts. And it enables us to better understand the same for others, helping us resolve problems that relate to our ability to get along with, and work around, other people (Mayer, 2014).

Students and professors alike can benefit from a heightened awareness of their personalities. In doing so, they stand to work more effectively together and better understand each other’s needs, interests, usual behavior, and stress behaviors. Below are some ways you can build personality intelligence in your classroom, whether in person or in a virtual setting.

  1. Socialize the notion of this concept. Define personality intelligence and teach students that their usual and stress behaviors (observable) are not the same as needs and interests (not observable). This means that how a person behaves in the classroom or at work or home doesn’t always reflect how they want others to treat them. This lack of congruence is not a sign of a clinical issue; rather, it exists in many healthy and functioning people, so learning about this concept is important for professors and students alike.
  2. Help students understand their motivators, needs, interests, values, and passions so that they can build their self-awareness and personal insight about their preferences and personality, and how they like to relate to others in a group or team. Many tools can help with this, including but not limited to the PwC Personal Brand Workbook and the VIA Character Strengths Survey, both of which are free of charge. Additional tools that are useful and can be purchased for a fee include Edgar Schein’s Career Anchors and the Birkman Method of Assessment.
  3. Make time in class to discuss the results from any tools that students complete so that they can get to know each other prior to working together. Sharing information about oneself and one’s preferences in an inclusive and psychologically safe classroom helps individuals build trust and empathy, and it can improve relationships that are required to work effectively in groups. Having done this in the in-person and virtual classroom, I can speak to the tremendous value that this brings to students. Students should be encouraged to do this work, and sharing results should take place in small groups or triads.
  4. Encourage students to complete the Johari window. Developed by psychologists Joseph Luft and Harrington Ingram, the Johari window focuses on different stages of awareness in individuals. Designed as a window with four panes, the tool helps participants better understand information that is (a) known to themselves but not others, (b) known to themselves and to others, (c) known to others but not self, (d) not yet known to self or others. The size of the windowpanes changes as our awareness and ability to self-disclose widens.

While the above tips are intended to build students’ personality intelligence, they are equally effective for professors working in postsecondary settings. Test out the tools prior to bringing them to the classroom to ensure a fulsome understanding of how they work and to be certain that they will fit in your classroom dynamic.

Learning more about our personalities and how they inform classroom behaviors and relationships can add a lot of value to group work and dynamics. Let’s be more curious about this concept! In doing so, we can better understand how personality affects decision-making, control, sensitivity, incentives, change, and energy in the classroom. When we create more favorable conditions for group work, we can change the response to syllabus review.


Mayer, J. D. (2014). Personal intelligence: The power of personality and how it shapes our lives. Scientific American/Farrar, Straus and Giroux.

Beth Corcoran is a professor at George Brown College and the founder and managing director at Ascenditur Incorporated, a consulting and coaching organization based in Toronto, Canada. Beth works with leaders in the area of organizational and management development and human resources, helping people and organizations thrive.