Back when I worked in an office, our human resources department was fond of running team-building exercises. More often than not, these involved personality tests. They usually stuck with the classic Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, which employs the theories of Carl Jung to classify people into 16 different personality types. I came out as INTJ or INFP, depending on how I felt the day I took the test.

Although Myers-Briggs remains one of the most heavily used personality tests, another system has also become popular, especially among management and in some spiritual circles. It's called the Enneagram of Personality and it uses a system of dozens or hundreds of questions to categorize people into nine personality types, each of which is interconnected to the others. The personalities revealed through this test include the Loyalist, the Individualist, the Reformer, the Helper and the Peacemaker.

ennegram personality typesThe origins of the enneagrams are fairly convoluted. Some of it dates back to 4th century mysticism and 9th century Kabbalah. The enneagram figure (right) was developed in the first half of the century by spiritual teacher George Gurdjieff, whose lessons focused on awaking people's consciousness. The nine personality types were added to the figure by philosopher Oscar Ichazo, who founded the Arica School in 1968 as part of the Human Potential Movement. Others took it further, sometimes in slightly different directions. Today the Enneagram Institute, founded in 1997 by Don Richard Riso and Russ Hudson, remains one of the core proponents of the system.

So how does the test work? Like the Myers-Briggs test, people fill out a questionnaire (there are long and short versions) that ranks them according to various qualities. It then places them in one of the nine categories and reveals a few side traits that fit into the bigger picture. These categories and additional results can then be used as ways to study yourself and go on a path of self-discovery.

Enneagram tests, like any personality tests, can theoretically reveal a few things about you and be useful in your career. One recent article in Forbes said that most entrepreneurs are Reformers. Another Forbes article examines Dave Kerpen's new book, "Likeable Leadership," which says using the Enneagram test can reveal enough about you to help you embrace your authentic self (and therefore be a more likeable boss). Several books on the market say you can use the test as an avenue toward self-discovery and spiritual growth, as well as to help you better understand others.

Of course you can't write an article like this without taking the tests for a spin. I tried a few tests, including one from the Enneagram Institute. The first test revealed (no big shock to me) that I feel I "must be unique/different to survive," placing me in the Individualist category. My results also showed a high level of perfectionism, a strong call to be helpful to others, and a yearning for both knowledge and peace. That's pretty spot-on. The second test from the Enneagram Institute — it's really a sample of the full 144-question test (which costs $10) — was less clear. It gave me equal scorings in the Achiever, Individualist, and Investigator categories, which at best indicates that I'm a creative pioneer and role model. At worst it paints me as an eccentric, melancholy workaholic. Truthfully, I can live with both of those descriptions.

Of course, as the Enneagram Institute puts it, "finding your type is not the final destination with the Enneagram, in fact, it is only the beginning of the journey." So here's to the journey, no matter which personality test your HR department subjects you to.

Related on MNN:

Inset photo: xxxxx/flickr