Facebook may need group therapy to fix its engineering culture

“I wish I could tell you we’re going to be able to stop all interference.”
“I wish I could tell you we’re going to be able to stop all interference.”
Image: Facebook
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Mark Zuckerberg would likely see little resemblance between Facebook and Royal Dutch Shell. But in one key respect, the social network and the oil giant are similar—and that similarity may be a source of Facebook’s current woes.

Like Shell, Facebook is full of engineers, mainly introverted men who tend to make decisions based on emotionless analysis. Zuckerberg himself is pegged as an introvert, specifically an INTJ personality type on the Myers-Briggs scale, a personality assessment test still used by many organizations to evaluate how management teams interact with one another. (Facebook says it does not know if its CEO meets the the INTJ test, but certainly the internet believes he does.)

INTJ types—introverted, intuitive, thinking, judgment—are said to account for 2% of the US population. They typically make decisions based on intuition and logic, can come off as reserved or aloof, and tend to see small talk and social interaction as a waste of time. That’s an ironic contradiction for someone who created a social network used by 2.2 billion people.

Such personalities generally do well in technical or engineering businesses, as well as law, and some find business careers reasonably challenging. Chatty activities like sales, which require extroversion, are probably not a good idea, which may explain why Zuckerberg prefers to send emissaries to do things like testify in front of Congress, which he will be doing on April 11.

Two decades ago, like Facebook now, Shell found itself in an existential crisis, on the defense against environmentalists and political activists. Run by Dutch and British men, Shell was then the world’s most profitable company, and also viewed itself as the most responsible of the big oil firms; it was particularly concerned about how its global operations affected the world. As part of an effort to fix Shell’s culture and readjust its vision, the entire management team took the Myers-Briggs test.

It turned out they were all INTJs. They had very little sensitivity to emotional matters, and most people saw them as cold technocrats. Because the executive team valued thinking over emotional decision-making, they struggled to understand why, if they were trying to do the right thing, it didn’t appear that way to the general public. With lots of help from outside consultants, the entire company went through a kind of group therapy to better identify its blind spots.

Facebook may not need group therapy. But it clearly needs to get a better grip on the implications of the communications platform it created. Perhaps hiring a few actors or musicians—ENFPs: extraversion, intuition, feeling, perception—would be a good start.