Stabilizers, Fixers, Independents, & Organizers

An individual assessment that actually considers interacting personalities helps design ideal work environments

Illustration: Several people sit at a conference table, each with the corresponding culture types over their heads

Dr. Rachel MK Headley is an organizational culture and leadership expert and Senior Partner/CEO of Rose Group Int’l. Her book iX Leadership: Create High-Five Cultures and Guide Transformation (coauthored by Meg Manke) details how corporate success is based on the internal experience (iX) of employees, emphasizing the way they prefer to work — or what the book describes as their Culture Type.

Show of hands: Who has felt like a misfit? I know I have.

My first job in satellite science was one of those positions where someone tells you what to do and when to do it. It was a “these are your duties, now do them” culture, which at the time was fine by me.

I needed rules and instruction. I didn’t know what to do, how to do it, or when to ask questions. I didn’t even yet know what questions to ask. I was delighted to have a roadmap.

As time went on and I became more adept at the role, I began to come up with all kinds of ideas to improve their process. I wanted to help make things more streamlined and efficient. From my perspective, I sought improvement and innovation, but that wasn’t how the company saw it. From their perspective, I was trying to change an institution that didn’t need to be changed. I was not in a position or an organization where new ideas were readily implemented, especially when those ideas came from the mouth of a young scientist. Stifled, I ended up leaving the project.

As I now know, I was a Culture Type mismatch. I am a Fixer, and I was operating in an Organizer role. This worked for a time, but it was not a long-term solution for me. It is critical to understand that an Organizer who could do that job, and do it incredibly well, isn’t a better team member than me. It’s just that I was ill-fitted to the role.

Once we are cognizant of our innate response to group dynamics, we gain a more objective perspective of ourselves, becoming aware that though we are unique, we still act in predictable ways. As a team member in an organization, once you identify your pattern, you learn to honor it by managing situations in which you find yourself.

What Color Are You?

You are probably one of the 20 million people who have been assessed with the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator or DiSC behavior test. You might have even completed the 34-aspect StrengthsFinder or found your personality hue through the Color Code. These profiles offer insights to your quirks and habits, as well as those around you.

Here’s the problem: While personality profiles are informative and useful on an individual level, they have failed to translate in situations in which people interact — which for most of us is our everyday personal and professional lives.

The four culture types
The four Culture Types: Stabilizers, Fixers, Independents, and Organizers.

For example, let’s say you took a Myers-Briggs test and found that you are an ENTJ (like me!). While you might find it fascinating that you are 7 percent more extroverted than the average person or that your dominant preference for perception is intuition, that information is only valuable on an individual level and doesn’t offer a simple explanation as to how you work on a team or in a group. That’s problematic considering teamwork composes 80 percent of the average employee’s workday.

Furthermore, personality profiles are too complicated to use in a group setting. Our typology — Culture Types — differs significantly from this paradigm. Culture Types don’t measure personality directly. Within our four categories and two axes of measurement, a person can be introverted or extroverted, judging or perceiving, or feeling or thinking. He or she can also be genuine, shallow, humble, or egotistical. Most importantly, Culture Types are designed to shed light on the structure of the environment in which you excel.

Culture Types do not assign value to any given Type. We have actively avoided “good” or “bad” labeling. Consider what has happened to the labels introvert and extrovert since the popularity of personality assessments. Many people made implicit (and explicit) assumptions that extroverts make the best leaders. Then in 2012, Susan Cain wrote Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, and ever since then publications such as Inc., HuffPost, and Psychology Today can’t wait to tell readers why extroverts are superficial while introverts are deep, mysterious thinkers. Misguided interpretations have the propensity to devolve from their original intent to repackaged trends of the week.

At Home at Work

Every Culture Type has strengths and preferences, and understanding them means understanding the value that each brings to an organization. There are influential leaders who are flung out to the very corners of our Cartesian graph, acting out every stereotypical trait of their own Culture Type, and there are others hovering near the center, acting as chameleons, changing their colors as needed. There are successful leaders who, by some centrifugal force, reside on each point of each axis, living in perpetual chaos or continuous order, consumed in self or immersed in team.

The names of each Culture Type are intentionally descriptive and intuitive so that leadership can take the information in our book and start applying it to their team right away. For example, Fixers tend to fix problems, Independents tend to act independently, Organizers tend to organize, and Stabilizers tend to create stability. Of course, that doesn’t mean that an Independent can’t be organized or that a Fixer is doomed to a life void of any stability. Anyone and everyone, usually on a day-to-day basis, acts independently, organizes something to some degree, fixes a problem, and creates a stable environment. What trait or traits a person chooses to demonstrate at any given moment in time is heavily influenced by the situation.

However, while behavior is fluid and non-prescriptive, Culture Types are designed to identify what is most natural or where a person feels most at home. Even though everyone can learn to act like another Type with practice and intention — as I did in my first satellite science job — it isn’t generally a long-term option.

Stabilizers, Fixers, Independents, & Organizers

Culture Types are simple to use, having only four categories and two axes of measurement. You gain insight into yourself and those around you right away. It doesn’t matter if a group is made of three people or 3,000; Culture Types are streamlined enough to integrate into teams of every size.

Culture Typing measures two things and two things only: a person’s tolerance for chaos and how he or she operates in a team environment. Consider these metrics while forming generalizations about each Type and before applying them outside of their original context. While Culture Types transcend the world of business, they are not designed to be a clinical diagnosis for one’s personal life. Culture Types are neither prescriptive nor rigid.

Culture Types

Graphic breaking down the different personality aspects of each culture type

Richard Branson, Elon Musk, and Oprah Winfrey (and any other powerhouse business personality of your choosing) will all tell you that nothing is possible without change and good people. So, we dug through the research — all the way back to Carl Jung’s work in the 1920s — to assemble a new typology that is more applicable for business today.

Our Culture Typology is based on two factors that have been converted into x- and y-axes. The x-axis indicates if you are driven by a team environment or prefer to work alone. The y-axis indicates if you prefer order or chaos.

Visit Rose Group’s website to find out your own Culture Type. It takes only a couple of minutes, is free, and will give you some context as you begin to relate the information here to yourself and your own team, organization, and worldview.

Types who land in either quadrant above the x-axis (Fixers and Independents) are chaos-tolerant, meaning they prefer a dynamic environment and are comfortable with the unexpected. Those who fall below the x-axis (Stabilizers and Organizers) are order-tolerant and therefore flourish under routine and prefer parameters.

Types scoring to the left of the y-axis (Stabilizers and Fixers) are team-driven, meaning they are aware of group dynamics and love building consensus. Types scoring to the right of the y-axis (Organizers and Independents) are self-driven, indicating they orient to the individual (themselves) before orienting to the group.

All of the types have drivers and fears that can aid you in understanding the environment in which you thrive. They will also provide insight into how others might act and react to situations. I am limited to brief descriptions here, but a much more detailed treatment of each Type can be found in iX Leadership.

Culture Types can be powerful tools. We have used Culture Type assessments to address challenges and opportunities such as team development, leadership development, project management failures, recruitment, retention, sales, team commissioning, unspoken conversations, achieving new goals, and implementing initiatives. Our book’s editor, Doug Murano (a Bram Stoker Award winner), pointed out that Culture Types also gave him new insight into his family dynamics after a recent major life event.

If you’ve ever wondered just why some people thrive during chaos, and others dread it, Culture Types have your answer. In a future article, I’ll explore how each Culture Type moves through change, where and how they get stuck (if they do), and some advice as to how to move through change with excitement instead of dread. I’ll outline why some change sticks, why most doesn’t, and how to be among those who actually sustain their New Year’s Resolutions.

Dr. Rachel MK Headley headshotRachel has led and managed teams for more than 20 years. She enjoys a good challenge and manages big projects, unites diverse stakeholders, guides teams through change, and leads complex and groundbreaking achievements. Rachel is a TEDx speaker and serves on the Council of Trustees for South Dakota State University. She is a Ph.D. scientist, a certified Project Management Professional, a global citizen, a choral singer, and an art patroness. Follow her on Twitter and connect with her on LinkedIn.
South Dakota Mensa | Joined 2004