Synching up the team’s working styles: Part I
Note: This is part one of a two-part series on Working Styles, a Teamworks tool that helps teams better understand and play to each person’s strengths. If you’re a manager who would like your team to take the Working Styles diagnostic, you can sign up for a free two-week trial at Teamworks.is.
Does your team have a hard time getting into a good working rhythm? Are your designers reworking layouts late into the night, while your project managers are scheduling early morning meetings? Does part of your team love to brainstorm together, while the other half needs time to think solo?
The conditions that bring out the best of team members can bring out the worst of others. A great manager creates a work environment where everybody’s needs and preferences are reasonably addressed, so that everyone can have as close to their ideal working conditions as possible — without taking the team’s flow hostage.
The smart thing is to apply a proactive approach to working style conflicts. Take some time to map out differences and find possible points of tension before anything goes wrong. Empathy and a willingness to accommodate are key, or working style conflicts can lead to trouble with your duos.
To help you get started, we’ll talk through some of the most common conflicts that we’ve seen and offer ideas for what to do about them.
Morning larks vs. night owls
The team member who’s happily firing off at emails at 6 am is a morning lark; the team member whose finest thinking happens post-9-to-5 is a night owl. Each person’s ideal working time is determined by biology, lifestyles, family obligations, etc. Problems arise when shared conventions aren’t established — for example, if an owl logs on mid-morning to finds he’s missed out on an early-bird decision-making email chain. Or a lark is rocked with a steady stream of incoming emails just as she’s powering down for the night.
Such email disconnects can undermine the team’s happiness and the flow of the work. Create some ground rules so everyone knows what’s expected, and when. Try these tips:
- Establish set working hours. When are people expected to be on call? Except for emergencies or other situations when it’s all-hands-on-deck, make it clear that team members are not expected to be fielding emails during off-hours.
- Develop a shared language for communicating when the emails require answers. For example, a night owl firing off ideas after hours should write in the subject line: “Please review in the morning.”
- If you’re a team member whose ideal work time falls outside the team’s norm (e.g. the majority is in by 8 a.m., but you like to go to the gym in the morning and start working at 10:30 a.m.), the burden is on you to demonstrate responsiveness. How can you avoid creating bottlenecks and frustrating team members waiting for your input? How can you show your dedication, so that your limited availability doesn’t look like a lack of care or commitment?
Collaborators vs. ruminators
Collaborators love to think aloud, finessing ideas through conversation. At the other extreme, there are ruminators — the folks who do their best thinking in solitude, feeling their way through the process. Often, collaborators contribute broad strokes, while ruminators add nuance and detail. Demanding brainstorming sessions where ruminators are expected to offer fully formed responses on the fly can fatigue them. And, conversely, collaborators get anxious when they find themselves doing all the talking, and not hearing much back.
As a manager, you need to make sure that both type’s needs are being met, so that they work doesn’t suffer. Consider these tips:
- Empathy goes a long way. Ruminators should avoiding retreating into silence when asked for their take; a more productive response would be, “I don’t know yet. Let me spend some time thinking about it.” Collaborators should avoid rushing the process and recognize that the extra time ruminators take to apply reflective thinking strengthens the team’s ideas.
- Ruminators might want to do more prep work in advance so that they don’t feel caught like deer in headlights.
- Figure out when the whole team needs to be present for a brainstorming session vs. when a subset of the team tackling the problem is enough.
Methodical planners vs. fly-under-the-wire wingers
For those who like to start and finish tasks early, attempting to make a big dent in the work at the eleventh hour is a recipe for disaster and anxiety. On the other hand, other team members get energized and focused as the eleventh hour approaches; they do their best work flying right under the wire.
Both types provide something vital to the team. The first make great project managers, for example. The second type are often creatives. Most of us fall somewhere in between on the spectrum — but the trickiest thing is to balance the two extremes so the work gets finished with maximum magic and minimum friction:
- Set a few mini low-stakes deadlines throughout the project instead of a single big deadline right at the end. So when one of the smaller deadlines gets tripped, there’s a safety net. Do some scenario planning in advance, and create some shared agreements.
- Be able to determine what projects need the best, most ground-breaking work the team can offer, and what projects can get by on an ordinary quantity of inspiration. This should free those who thrive on deadline panic to work in a more methodical fashion.
- If you’re a PM — or just a natural planner — paired with a team that likes to produce at the last moment, learn to balance method with madness. Even if the process might appear undisciplined to you at first, it can produce magic. Try to understand the patterns and create predictable processes to manage the unpredictability. This will allow you to “bottle the magic” and make sure that it gets out in the world.
In part two, we’ll discuss three additional working style conflicts. In the meantime, let us know what other working style conflicts you encounter on your team in the comments section below.
Further reading from Teamworks: