June 17, 2021

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Understanding collaborative & working styles on your team

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“There is no I in team” is an often-repeated mantra but to make sure your team is operating the best it can, consider taking a look at how various working styles influence your team dynamic. A seamless blend of different working styles makes for a well-structured team, and a successful team capitalizes on the different advantages of its members’ styles.

Why is it that you seem to butt heads with one coworker and not another during a project? Do you get frustrated when you don’t a project’s deliverables aren’t made or certain details get left out? This is where working styles come into play.

What are working styles?

A working style is how you naturally operate in a team environment. It takes into account how you like to communicate, how you manage conflict and your collaboration preferences.

Much like the Myer-Briggs Type Indicator and Enneagram personality tests, working styles are often based on self-reported answers to a variety of questions. The difference with working styles is that they’re formulated specifically for a business or workplace type of application. There are a number of models available, including but not limited to the DiSC Model, Deloitte’s Business Chemistry and the Belbin Team Roles Model. Each model details its own roles and advises on both strengths and weaknesses.

Why should you know about your working style?

Knowing your working and collaborative style adds another tool to your self-awareness toolkit. The introspective look helps you understand where you excel and where your biases might be.

Teamwork requires communication, collaboration, compromise and conflict resolution. Once you understand your style and those of your teammates, these parts of your work can become more effective. For example, if you like to research the heck out of fine details like a certain project feature, you might be less likely to see the impact of the feature in the bigger picture. Someone else on the team who prefers the bigger picture perspective might be less in touch with these individual details, but could be the one to manage deadlines and keep the project moving along.

As with any type of personality test, it is important to note that people should not be pigeonholed into one type and that there are always flaws. Instead of relying solely on one type to determine team structure, working styles are better used as a framework or guidance in better understanding team dynamics.

Why should leaders care about working styles?

A good team leader understands that maximizing individuals’ strengths can only lead to a more productive and communicative team. When working styles come into play, you can identify where gaps might be in your team and also assign project components to those who excel in that type. Compromises become easier when you can appeal to another person’s style, essentially repositioning a perspective.

Leaders should also care about work styles because a harmonious team means increased morale, and who doesn’t want a happy team?

The different working styles

As mentioned earlier, there are a number of frameworks available to you. For this piece, we’ll focus on the DiSC model, first described by William Moulton Marston in his 1928 book Emotions of Normal People.
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While there are four distinct quadrants, people can be a blend of two types. The two axes determine your focus orientation (task vs people) and your decision-making speed (fast vs moderate).

  • D for Dominance: This type is direct and like results. They tend to be have strong opinions and are motivated by competition and success.
  • i for Influence: This type is great at influencing and convincing others. They tend to be motivated by social recognition.
  • S for Steadiness: This type is patient and enjoys helping others. They tend to be motivated by cooperation and team accomplishments.
  • C for Conscientiousness: This type is analytical and cautious. They tend to be motivated by gaining knowledge and being able to demonstrate it.

Managing the different working styles

Because the different collaborative styles have different communication and project goal values, knowing someone’s work style helps you manage the team better. You can watch out for behavioral tendencies and resolve conflict before it blows up.
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This helpful guide goes in-depth on how to communicate, motivate and identify areas that might be lacking according to the DiSC model. If you pay for an assessment, you’ll likely receive additional details on each specific type as well as a map of each person. We all have a combination of the four working styles but most are strongest in one to two types.

5 Ways to improve collaboration based on working styles

Beyond understanding your team’s various styles and their preferred collaboration methods, there are a few other ways you can generally improve your team’s collaboration.

  1. Creating psychological safety within a team is when people feel safe to bring up ideas and concerns without a fear of retaliation or embarrassment. The ability to bring your authentic self into work and feel safe within a team carries a lot of weight.
  2. Establish workflows within the team for effective productivity and time optimization. When workflows are personalized, it recognizes that people work differently and shows that team leaders prioritize that.
  3. Use tools that facilitate collaboration because without the right tools, you can only get so far as a team. Business collaboration tools like Asana, Jira, Slack and Zoom are all ways to collaborate across different personality types. Some tools are better in certain areas than others and it’s often best to evaluate what works for your team and keep the number of tools at a minimum to avoid switching back and forth.
  4. Build a culture of recognition to strengthen morale and make people feel like they’re part of the team. Most people like to be recognized for their success and work, though preferences in the method do vary. Whether it’s private or public, be sure to understand how individuals like to be recognized. You don’t want to embarrass someone in front of an entire company if they’d prefer a smaller group recognition scenario.
  5. Understand how remote work might affect your collaboration efforts. Remote work comes with its own set of challenges and remote team management is no different. When you’re not able to just stop by a colleague’s desk anymore for a quick chat or create a meeting on the fly, you need to put in processes that do replicate the kind of collaboration that’s missing.

During remote work, building rapport with teammates will need to move from the casual desk visit to perhaps a scheduled virtual social hour. Use a variety of communication methods: email, video, phone and documents to appeal to different styles.

Taking action

Now that you’re a little more familiar with working and collaborative styles, it’s time to put the research to action. There are a number of free online assessments available as well as paid consulting companies who will come in and assist on a customized level.

Use the results from these tests to change up your communication methods and help others manage their work better. A team that plays to its strengths is more effective and productive. And while you’re there improving your team, it doesn’t hurt to recognize that many people are on the edge of burnout. Encourage habits that battle burnout to avoid an overextended team.

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