Professional  Relationships  – Work Team Functioning and Riso’s Nine Domains Theory

Our workplaces are systems of relationships, and the healthier those systems are, the better the work they produce.  A work team has a kind of interpersonal “personality,” a style of relating that can be deadening or exhilarating, inflexible or adaptive.   Even a basic understanding of personality and its effect on interpersonal style can help members navigate the often difficult terrain of professional connections.  And the Enneagram of Personality is probably the most powerful tool on the planet for that kind of assessment, awareness raising, and deep transformation of the ways we show up in the work world.  However, Don Riso’s recent deepening of Enneagram nine-point personality typology into the more fundamental theory of the “Nine Domains of Functioning” could yield important shifts in the way personality experts work with the interpersonal challenges that work groups and organizations face daily.   (  

The ability to form and maintain good relationships has been repeatedly demonstrated to be the single most potent factor in professional success.  Whether we are at a roundtable with colleagues brainstorming every phase of production, from the first kernel of an idea to the day the product hits store shelves, or at the computer sending a first draft of a manuscript that took eight months in a remote rural cabin to finish over to a trusted editor, at some point we bring our work to the world of professional relationships.  And, for better or worse, we bring our interpersonal style along with it.   As a species, we have figured out that the ground we gain by engaging with others (at some point) during the work process is worth the relational hurdles that may ensue.   

Those relational hurdles are a product of each work team’s unique combination of interpersonal styles.  With training in practices for style assessment, awareness, and transformation at the team level, as well as the individual level, the team relational chemistry can be continually analyzed and improved.  In a sense, these practices keep organizations on their growing edge by dealing with relational issues before those issues slow progress and/or innovation.

Riso notes that:  “Systems which are weak or lacking in even a few of the Domains are not likely to function well or to survive for long. Those in which all nine Domains are present and functioning well, however, not only have a better chance of surviving, but of growing and becoming better functioning and more robust.”   ( Just as individuals function better as a broader pallet of personality strengths becomes accessible to them in life situations, all relational systems function better as more of the personality strengths come into the interpersonal mix. 

Because the Enneagram is such a universally applicable psychological growth tool, unmatched in the world of personality science in its capacity to guide people into the unlimited kaleidoscope of potential in human behavior, emotional responsiveness, and mental awakening, it is reasonable to assume (in this author’s opinion) that all of the Nine Enneagram Domain strengths Riso discovered are applicable to bringing professional relationships up to optimal functioning and productivity.  As you contemplate the brief descriptors of the Nine Domains and their possible relational counterparts in organizational life (below), think about what factors are present or missing in your professional connections:

Domain 1

“Need for Principles, Order, and Ethics” (Who is embodying the reminders to maintain a blameless, honorable position in relationship to our surrounding community and the world?   Is there respect for the voices for balance, objectivity, logic, fairness, justice and order around the work table, and within my own being?  What are the implied interpersonal ethics of this team?)

Domain 2

“Need for Personal Caring, and Connections with others”  (Which colleagues keep the reminders in front of the organization that people need love, appreciation, and care?   Is there room here for the connection, warmth and personal relationship vital to any significant contribution I or anyone makes to the workplace, and vital to any significant contribution the workplace makes to the world?)

Domain 3

“Need for Self-Improvement and Advancement and Recognition”  (In this circle of coworkers, do we feel good about ourselves in each other’s presence?   Is the air filled with liking, esteem, admiration, and valuing during meetings?     Who carries the mantel of mining and mentoring the irreplaceable potential and talent of the outstanding individuals coming up through our organization?)

Domain 4

“Need for Personal Meaning and the Ability to find Aesthetic Satisfaction”  (Is there a balance between valuing the group’s desire to complete tasks and valuing each member’s desire to understand him or herself, and his or her feelings and motivations in regard to those tasks?   Do we raise each other’s awareness about the fact that life is short, and that the many hours of it we spend on work need to be sourced in a unique sense of purpose, doing that which is personally meaningful and beautiful in some way?)

Domain 5

“Need for Knowledge and In-Depth Exploration of Reality”  (Are there members of our work community who focus our attention on the importance of knowledge, understanding, and expertise?   Do we join with them in patient respect for the infinite complexity in the universe and the need to continue seeking objective truth?  Is there time committed in our meetings to study reality in depth without interference or prejudice?)

Domain 6

“Need for Belonging and to Give and Receive Group Support”  (Are there some of our cohorts who frequently help to create a genuine team spirit?  Do we experience camaraderie, belonging, and support, a sense of a work “home” or “family” in this workplace?    Are we able to connect with each other in our efforts, and share an experience of contributing to something larger than self?)   

Domain 7

“Need for Variety, Freedom for Experimentation, and Change”  (Someone in the group championing change, variety?  Someone making sure there is plenty of mental and emotional stimulation in the work environment?    Are we able to stay in a continual, free, vibrant exchange of ideas with one another?   Do we harness the power life’s appetites, enjoyment and gratitude during project hours, instead of relegating those joy juices to Friday afternoons?

Domain 8

“Need for Self-Assertion, Independence of Decision-Making and Action”  (Who at the table is known for the ability to both defend and assert themselves?   Are we able to be with each other’s need for strength, grounded power, and even “against other” energy, if the situation demands it?    Are independence, taking initiative, and setting self-determined goals and achieving them honored on this team because we see how those abilities in any colleague can benefit all of us?)

Domain 9

“Need for Stability, Harmony, and Effortless Flow”   (Where are the steady team mates who can bring us into peace of mind amid the many changes and losses throughout the work cycles?   Are we able to truly see the significant contribution of grounded calm these coworkers make?  Do we seek to understand our connection to each other, and our connection to the many layers of larger work systems, in ways that help resolve conflicts and tensions, and to detoxify the work environment?  )