December 9, 1996 / Staff Management / Winter 1996

Color me orange

Written by Susan Massy

It’s time to send for the counselor!

That’s where I was two years ago. It was January and my staff still had not jelled. Not jelled? That’s putting it nicely. They were screaming at each other. Nobody liked anybody and the yearbook room on work nights was a miserable place to be.

I was complaining about all of this at lunch one day and the health teacher suggested that I try the True Colors program with my students. She even offered to come in one work night and walk us through it. I was skeptical (what’s new?), but I was desperate.

The True Colors program is much like the Briggs-Meyer evaluation most educators become acquainted with at some point in their careers. It looks at personality traits and then groups people according to the traits. True Colors groups people by, of course, color: blue for touchy-feely people; gold for the structured parental group; orange for the dancin’-on-the-table, gotta-be-the-center-of-attention folks; and green for the analytical, problem-solving people.

What a revelation the program proved to be for my staff! Of the 32 people on staff, 14 were identified with the traits of the “gotta be the center of attention” orange, 13 sought the structured, quiet workplace of the golds, two (plus me) turned out to have the “I just need to understand how you feel” qualities of the blues and only three problem-solving, “I-can-fix-anything” greens could be found.

The program then goes on to delineate the type of work environment needed by each of these groups (the oranges want loud music, lots of talk and a “this is the place to be” atmosphere while the golds need quiet, peaceful music in a very organized and uncluttered place), how each of these groups can learn to deal with the others and the kind of partner each of these types would be. As we looked at this information, it became clear why we were having such difficulty.

The first, and most important, step we took was to establish two work areas-one appropriate for the “gimme music and people” orange group and one very quiet, very clean work place for the structured golds. This step was crucial to our survival.

We also recognized that we had very few problem solvers and peacemakers on staff which was why, once things got out of hand, it was difficult to get back on track.

The key thing is that the staff became aware of the differences and needs of each color group and how to deal with them. The True Colors program points out specific actions that a person can take to improve his or her relationship with a person of each personality color. For example, it suggests that the green personality more than anything else fears appearing foolish and values competence; the gold personality wants to be praised for specific responsible actions while the blue person values openness and responsiveness. The program also specifically addresses ways to help each of the personality types improve their job performances (blue needs one-on-one feedback; gold seeks tangible recognition for their work; orange needs action-packed, hands-on assignments, etc.)

We also found it interesting to analyze the leadership style of each personality type. One of our co-editors was a gold personality and assumed that everyone would always do things the “right” way; she expected punctuality and order from others. She was slow to accept change and tended to take a detailed, organized approach to things. Imagine how the orange page editors who expected quick action, valued flexibility and welcomed change reacted to that!

Although the program did not remove these problems, awareness of the tendency of each color group and who on our staff fell into the various groups at least gave us an understanding of what was happening and why we had problems.

The program is not inexpensive, but consider talking to the counseling department or perhaps health teachers to see if they already use the program or would be interested in sharing the expense with you.

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Susan Massy

Susan Massy is the yearbook adviser at Shawnee Mission Northwest High School in Shawnee, Kan., where her Lair yearbook staffs have been demonstrating excellence in writing and design for the past two decades. The Lair recently won its 18th Pacemaker award from the National Scholastic Press Association under Massy’s guidance. In 1999, Massy was chosen the National Yearbook Adviser of the Year by the Journalism Education Association. In 2013, Massy was inducted into the Kansas Scholastic Press Association Hall of Fame.