Working with different organizations is a fascinating study in contrasts. Moving from one group to another, we’ve witnessed focuses and needs that required vastly different approaches.
The Enneagram’s Instincts are a useful model for understanding the priorities and needs of organizations as well as individuals. The Instincts represent unconscious drives, or groups of related behaviors, that seek to get our core needs met. They are a more fundamental part of the way we work than personality type, and can be viewed as an independent mini-typology. People of each personality type can be driven by each of the three Instincts. We share all three, but they are present in individuals and groups to varying degrees, with one running the show and shaping core values.
Different dominant Instincts in organizations call for different approaches. Here are three case studies from our teaching to demonstrate what each Instinct looks like as a dominant focus in organizations, and to share ideas about how to meet the needs of these different types of groups.
A group we worked with recently was dominated by the concerns and energy of the Social Instinct, which is focused on navigating community dynamics. A non-profit that exists to serve the needs of a marginalized community, its team members are a good mix of members of that community and external advocates. When we walked through the door, we saw people milling around, checking in with each other. The room buzzed with talk. It was clear from the way people interacted, before and during our workshop, that inclusion was a priority.
Unsurprisingly for this organization, the workshop we’d been invited to teach focused on communication; it became clear that this group had brought us in to meet Social Instinct needs. We took our cues from the group and focused on creating avenues for engagement. We prioritized group activities that facilitated understanding between members, and left the floor open for lots of questions and discussion.
After working with that lively group, the next one came as a bit of a surprise. This organization was focused on holistic health and wellness, and the physical space reflected that philosophy. Soft colors abounded, and rooms were spacious. Our point person was ready to attend to any physical needs our presentation involved, from tweaking the air conditioning to making sure we had writing supplies. We’d arrived in a headquarters dominated by the Self-Preservation Instinct, which is focused on preserving stability, well-being, and resources.
The people at our workshop seemed as mellow as the space. They were quiet, composed, and moved with deliberation. It soon became clear that they wanted a workshop that matched the organization’s stabilizing values. They prioritized comfort in their space, so we moderated things like temperature and seating, striving to make sure the group was comfortable. In our activities, we focused on mindfulness, giving participants time to relax and ground themselves.
Transmitting / Sexual
Another organization was interested in a growth-oriented workshop. As with the previous group, the environment was beautiful, but in a more attention-grabbing way. Both the space and the people shone with rich colors and decorations, and the group actively sought a non-traditional approach. This organization’s dominant influence is often called the Sexual Instinct in relationships or personal work, as it’s the drive behind reproduction. Transmitting is a more accurate description of this Instinct’s role in organizations, since it drives them to bring information, services, products, or messages into the world.
The group was enthusiastic and honed in on us as speakers. They wanted a workshop that would push them to see themselves more clearly and make changes. Picking up on this Transmitting group’s driven energy, we worked on making our material and delivery fresh and exciting to keep their attention. We brought in innovative approaches and engaged with the group’s focused follow-up questions as they sought to know more.
Think about the groups or teams that you’re a part of. Which Instinct runs the show for each one? What needs and strengths do these dominant Instincts present in the groups you know best?