Do You Know How Each Person on Your Team Likes to Work?

Do You Know How Each Person on Your Team Likes to Work

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When we travel to a country that has a different culture than ours, many of us spend time
learning ways to communicate and connect with the people there. We might look up the
meanings of common terms and access maps of key attractions.

Similarly, when you first become a manager, it’s helpful to spend time up front connecting
and creating a common language with your team. When your team knows how you like to
work and how you plan to manage them, they’re able to produce results faster. When you
know how each of your direct reports likes to work and communicate, you’re able to save
time when setting direction and following up.

Consider this example. Sveta, a technical leader, liked to solve complex, technical problems.
When she was promoted to manager of a new team, she immediately dug into the new
product she was assigned, as well as her team members’ work.

Sveta had a keen attention to detail and placed a high value on being efficient. Therefore,
she didn’t waste much time or words when talking with her team. She was direct and blunt.
Unfortunately, her intentions didn’t match the impact she had on her employees. When
Sveta called out problems but didn’t spend time recognizing what people had done well,
they thought they were failing. In reality, Sveta was pleased with the overall quality of work
but wanted to make sure the remaining issues were corrected fast. As a result, people
spent excessive time perfecting things before bringing them to Sveta, and one person
started looking at job boards for interesting postings.

After her first month as a manager, Sveta realized she was struggling. She had too many
things on her plate because she didn’t know her team well enough to delegate work to
them. Sveta’s manager also had some tough feedback for her: three of her direct reports
had complained that Sveta was overwhelming them with detailed questions and working
directly on their code. Her team was unclear about expectations, saying they had to guess
what she wanted or how she felt about their work because most of their conversations
were about the specifics of the code rather than how they worked. They felt disconnected
and micromanaged.

Sveta needed to connect with and empower her team more. She realized that, just like
technical problems, working with people also required some decoding.
At her next team meeting, Sveta shared a table with behaviors specific to her management
style, what her actions meant, and how her team could best work with her.

I try to understand something deeply by asking a lot of probing questions.Engage and debate with me to formulate the best solution.
I raise tough issues up front and directly.If you feel my response is blunt or direct, realize that it’s about the issue, not about you personally.
I joke with people I know well.Let me know if my joking with you or someone else makes you uncomfortable or feels inappropriate in any way.
I tend to look for the problems to fix first.This doesn’t mean I don’t appreciate the good work you do. Ask me how you’re doing if you’re worried about the number of “bugs” I found in your last document.
I take an optimistic view.Don’t just tell me why something won’t work;
also share ideas for how it might.
I try to communicate regularly and transparently.Give me the pulse of the team, and be sure to share my messages to you with your teams.
I can appear grouchy because I often have a serious expression on my face or provide tense responses at times.If I seem grumpy in a conversation or meeting with you, don’t assume the problem is you; discuss it with me.
I’m not a morning personAvoid scheduling meetings where I have to make a big decision before 10 AM

After sharing her own table, Sveta asked her direct reports to create their own work-style
tables. Each employee then shared their tables during the next team meeting, and they
asked questions about others’ tables. This exercise created greater clarity all around, giving
Sveta a better understanding of the styles and strengths of her direct reports, and gave her
team insight into how to manage up.

The end result was promising. Sveta was able to delegate items more effectively, and other
members of the team found they got things done faster with fewer misunderstandings with
each other and with their manager.

As a new manager, you can recreate this exercise with your own team. Consider these
questions when creating your own table and encouraging your direct reports to do the

  • What are some misperceptions people have had about you in the past? Perhaps they haven’t said it to you directly, but a friend or your partner has jokingly commented about it.
  • What do you care most about in terms of how work is done? For instance, think about how you like materials to be prepared for a broad audience.
  • What are some ways that you tend to communicate? Some people tend to be direct, like Sveta, but others take a more indirect approach. Consider where you fall on the spectrum.
  • What are your hot button issues? Maybe you want to know ahead of time if someone is about to miss a deadline, or you don’t like people interrupting you in a meeting.
  • What are some quirks about you? For example, Sveta isn’t a morning person so asked people to defer critical meetings till after 10 am.

Keep in mind that while this exercise is helpful to inform your team of your preferences —
and for you to learn theirs — you may need to make some adaptations to your work style. If
your team indicates that they find positive feedback motivating, but that’s something you
tend to give sparingly, you’ll likely want to take more time to praise and commend your
employees, even if it feels strange at first. But discussing preferences and work styles does
give you and your employees a starting point to understand one another and work more
productively together.

Being a first-time manager can feel a lot like navigating your way in a foreign land. Taking
the time up front to learn your team’s language and share your own will create a strong
working relationship, reduce misunderstandings, and increase the speed at which you get
work done.