4.4. Work Styles and the Project Team
It's clear that people have different work stylesfrom how they like to receive information to how they like to manage their work; from how they interact with others to how they like their manager to communicate with them. In this section, we'll look at four common work styles that you can use to begin to understand how each of the members of your team approaches work. These four styles are used as you might use the four primary colors. Each can be used alone, but is often mixed with one or two others to create new, unique colors. Work styles are similar in that they rarely show up purely as one of the four styles. More often, they are blends of two or three styles. As with color, though, you can almost always discern the primary work style preference. This is useful because when you understand how someone (primarily) approaches work, you can work with him or her to leverage his or her strengths and minimize weaknesses.
Some of you may be familiar with work styles assessments such as Myers-Briggs or DiSC profiles. Myers-Briggs is a useful tool, but can be somewhat more complex or comprehensive than needed in some instances. Myers-Briggs looks at four areas. These are:
As with any assessment or system, it's rare that someone is totally to one extreme or the other in their behaviors and preferences. More often, people fall somewhere along the continuum. We all know people who prefer rules and regulations and order and stability. Some of them on the extreme may seem incredibly rigid or uptight to us, but that's where they're most comfortable. We all also know people who couldn't seem to care less about the rules and would love nothing more than to sit down and reveal their innermost thoughts to you. Almost everyone else falls somewhere in between and you'd have to get to know them well or work closely with them to come to any conclusions about their natural preferences. The key to any of these systems that categorize human behavior is that almost no one fits neatly into any one area and in order to be effective at work (and in life), we need to expand our repertoire to include as least a few of the traits from outside our normal preferences. If you are an extroverted, intuitive, feeling, perception type, you're going to either find a job that requires those skills and traits or you're going to have to learn a few new tricks. Most of the time, our jobs and lives require us to flex between traits in order to be successful and most of us do pretty well.
Another very popular and useful system is the DiSC profile system, which is a bit more oriented to the work environment. Some people find it less threatening than Myers-Briggs because it is more focused on work styles and behaviors. DiSC uses four main traits to describe primary work styles, though don't get thrown off by the terminology. These are:
Many CEOs, business leaders and entrepreneurs are primarily D'sthey want to get the job done and they're all about the results. The expression "Ready, fire, aim" can describe a D who's in a frenzy since D's often want to act first and think later. In the extreme, they can disregard or break rules to get results, which is not a desirable expression of the D work style. Some leaders who are also quite charismatic might be termed "DI's" meaning they tend to use both dominance and influence in equal measure.
The influence pattern without any other letters (no D, S, or C) is someone who is highly interactive and needs to have a job in which they interact regularly with others. They typically avoid going into technical fields because they want to work with people, not machines. They make great counselors, but if they lack any other "letters," they'll probably have a tough time in the IT world.
The world of programmers, engineers, and accountants is filled with people whose primary trait is C (conscientiousness). They are organized, like to think through problems before tackling them (just the opposite of the D personality) and like structure, quality, and accuracy first and foremost.
Finally, the last trait is the person who exhibits steadiness, the S. He or she is the person that always makes sure everyone in the room knows each other's names, will make sure everyone has a chair to sit in or will make sure everyone feels included in the meeting. They're natural hosts and hostesses and they typically work well alone or in a group.
As you can see, the Myers-Briggs and the DiSC terminology are different, but they have a lot in common. They describe how people prefer to work, what their natural tendencies are. You might be sitting here thinking this is all a bunch of psychological mumbo jumbo, but read on. Understanding these tendencies does two important things for you. First, you will be able to leverage people's natural styles and get them working in ways that are most comfortable for them. When you can do this, you increase their job satisfaction and their productivity while reducing their stress (and yours). Sound interesting now? The second benefit is that your job of managing the department or project team will be much easier if you understand how each team member naturally operates. You can assign them appropriate tasks and leverage their natural styles while minimizing or mitigating their shortcomings. This is really much easier than you might at first think. In the next section, we're going to talk about these work styles, using the four primary work traits. You'll learn how to discern someone's primary style and then you'll learn what the pros and cons are of each style. You'll also see how these traits can be used in positive ways and how they sometimes show up as negative traits.
Before we jump into that, let's look at an example that will drive this concept home. If you have a huge IT project and you're working on putting together the project plan, you obviously need to take some time to plan. (OK, most of us know we should, not all of us do, but more on that later in the book). If you have a bunch of people who are doers, they want to jump in and get the job done and you're going to have to restrain them until it's time to actually go do something. On the other hand, if you have folks that we'll call the analysts, they're the ones who enjoy, in fact, need to plan and get all the details locked down. You want to leverage their natural abilities to enhance your project plan, but you'll also have to make sure they don't get "analysis paralysis" and fail to get to the "doing" stage. When you have a mixture of folks on a team, you can see now that these various traits can really help you plan, define, organize, implement, and manage your project. Your job as the project manager becomes slightly easier when you can rely upon people's natural traits rather than asking someone to do something so far outside their natural abilities that it's difficult (or impossible) for them to do. Don't misinterpret thiswe all have to do things in our jobs that we'd rather not do or that we're not as skilled at. The point is that anytime you can assign a task or job to someone that aligns with their natural abilities, they'll be more likely to deliver a high-quality result in a timely manner. It's just another tool in your IT project manager tool bag that you can use to make everyone's life just a bit more productive without added stress.
While the systems described earlier are helpful, they're not required in order to understand basic work styles or work behaviors. These types of assessments can be helpful in understanding your own work style as well as that of your team. However, rather than refer specifically to one "system", we'll paint the picture with broad strokes so you can learn how understanding work styles can greatly benefit you and your team. Remember that none of the work personalities described is absolute most people have a predominant trait or style and one or more subordinate traits. The predominant trait is the one that almost always shows up under pressure because it's what's most natural and least stressful. The subordinate traits often are used when the situation is more relaxed and the person can take time to determine the best course of action. The terminology used is not specific to any one system and is used to describe the predominant work style.
Many people fall under the broad category of doers. They want to get things done, they jump into action at the first opportunity. These folks are often the ones that get initiatives going, that take steps to put plans into action. The downside of this type of work personality is that they often don't take time to think and plan. They simply jump into the action that seems most appropriate at the time. Sometimes that's fine because the action didn't require much planning. Other times, they have to either re-think or re-work what they've already done because they failed to take time to plan before acting.
A second major category of work personalities is that of the interactive personality. This person almost always wants to talk things through and the conversation often centers around that person and their relationship to the work. This is the kind of person that can help bring the doer back to earth and get a conversation going about how to approach the project or problem. This type of person will often call or stop by your office to respond to an e-mail you sent because they prefer personal interaction to e-mails or phone calls. Typically, these people are found in jobs that involve interacting with others people frequently and are less represented in the IT field. The downside of this personality type is that they can focus the conversation on them and distract the group from discussing the more relevant issues. They can also be time wasters because what could have been a quick three-word response in e-mail from them becomes a 20 minute conversation in your office.
The third work personality type is that of the team player. This person often works to assess the team environment and works to ensure that everyone on the team is participating. The team player will be interactive, as will the interactive person just discussed, but the point of the interaction is to ensure the overall functionality of the team. It's not about the team player, it's not about any one individual on the team; it's about everyone working together in as an efficient team. This person will often subordinate his or her own needs to ensure the team's needs are met. The downside of this type of personality is that they can overlook their own needs or become too involved with the team and its dynamics to be effective. They sometimes can be too nice in trying to get the team together.
The fourth major work personality type is that of the analyst. This person is the type (often found in IT and very often in programming, engineering, and accounting positions) that enjoys understanding every last detail so he or she can organize things. He or she is often excellent with detail and will spend time keeping things orderly. This type of work personality is useful for analyzing data, for dealing with details on a daily basis, and for organizing large amounts of detail. This type of person may often be seen as the person that says "that's not going to work" because they have already given thought to a topic and have drawn their conclusions. The downside of this personality type is that they can be seen as the naysayers in the group, throwing a wet rag on every proposed idea as they point out the shortcomings. They may also have difficulty finishing tasks on time (or at all) because they may feel they do not have sufficient data to make a decision or come to a conclusion.
4.4.1. Managing Different Work Styles
One of the first things to understand about work styles is that there is no good or bad, right or wrong work style. Certainly some work styles are more appropriate or helpful in certain positions. For instance, if you have someone who's primarily interactive and needs to discuss things at length, he or she may not fare well as a programmer whose primary job is to sit in a room and write code six hours a day. If someone is a doer and is prone to just jumping in and getting things started, he or she might not be the best person to manage the corporate finances unless that person also has the ability to deal with detail. Someone who is a team player may not do well as a sole contributor at a remote corporate location because they are most comfortable (and most effective) as part of a highly functioning team. Your job, as IT manager or project manager, is to leverage the skills, talents, and personalities of your team in order to get the best possible result. That means learning to maximize the strengths of each work style and minimize the weaknesses of that style. In this section, we'll briefly look at how you can best manage people with these predominate work styles.
188.8.131.52. Managing A Doer
The doer prefers action to talk, planning, or waiting. Managing these folks means learning to temper their desire to jump right in without completely removing their ability to take action. When these folks want to just get started, your job will be to ask them to do some planning first. Since planning is an action, it is compatible with this work style; it's just that planning is not their natural first course of action. Helping them to understand that planning will allow them to move forward faster and more effectively is often all it takes. These folks are usually outcome-oriented, meaning they are most interested in the outcome or end point. As a result, they're often willing to flex their personal style in order to get the job done. Helping the doers to take time to think and plan before acting will make them far more effective in the long run. Asking the doer for a plan of action prior to implementation will help slow them down just enough to help them get their thoughts in order. Since errors, omissions, and re-work are a major source of expense in any project, it's critical that these doers are engaged in the planning process early on to avoid potential problems later. A summary of traits is shown in Table 4.1. The traits are divided into personal tendencies, environmental factors, and team composition. Each trait has positive characteristics, shown on the left side of the table, and each trait has negative potential, shown on the right side of the table. The types of people on a team that balance out this work style are listed at the bottom of the table. Remember that no one is absolutely all one style, so these are broad descriptions that should be helpful in identifying the primary work style.
184.108.40.206. Managing An Interactive
An interactive person prefers talk to action, planning, or waiting. Managing these folks means you'll need to provide an outlet for discussion and provide ample opportunity for this person to engage with others. Again, these kinds of people are typically under-represented in IT, so you may know of people like this, but do not directly manage them. These kinds of folks often gravitate toward sales and marketing, which are highly interactive positions (for the most part). To effectively manage these folks, you need to provide them the opportunity to interact with others. You'll also need to keep an eye on the discussion to ensure it drives the meeting objectives and doesn't get bogged down in chit chat. Interactive types can be great on a team because they often bring a natural ease with people and can have a valuable role on the team in terms of getting people talking and interacting. Just don't let it get out of hand. Provide the interactive person with opportunities to work with others in a structured (or outcome-oriented) environment and provide specific deliverables to keep interactions on track.
Table 4.2 delineates the interactive work style. As with the previous table, the three main categories are the personal tendencies, the environment, and the team. Any of the personal or environmental traits can be positive, but they both have their negative potential. The bottom section of the table shows you what kinds of people they should be around and work with to balance their natural tendencies.
220.127.116.11. Managing A Team Player
A team player prefers working as part of a team to working individually. He or she will strive to make sure the needs of the team are met. In or out of work, they're often the person described as "nice" (in a good way). They're the person that is often sought out for advice or consolation, the person that makes everyone in the room feel comfortable. As a member of a team, they'll strive to work with others to achieve the group's goals. That doesn't mean that he or she is not a solid sole contributorjust the opposite in most cases. The team player will hold up his or her end of the bargain by getting their work done on time and to specification. They often believe that their job is to be the best team member they can while helping to iron out differences between other team members. If you have someone on your team that is a team player, leverage their ability to bring team members together, but watch that they do not overextend themselves helping others. Sometimes they'll take on others' duties in an effort to be helpful, but this can lead to burn out, resentment, and lack of accountability. You'll need to keep team players focused on their own jobs, their own responsibilities and duties, and you may need to help them draw boundaries to avoid them taking on too much or taking on tasks for someone who is underperforming. Encourage team players to report team problems to you so you can resolve them rather than having the team member take them on.
Table 4.3 shows the traits of the team player work style. Again, the table shows the personal tendencies, the work environment, and the type of team members that complement this style. The positive and negative potentials are shown to help you recognize these traits.
18.104.22.168. Managing An Analyst
The analyst is someone who prefers to think rather than act. This work style is sometimes unfairly labeled as negative because he or she can often see what's wrong with a particular course of actionsometimes long before anyone else sees it. Human nature being what it is, most of us are reluctant to be told we're wrong and we often resist information proving us so. The analyst is sometimes seen as gruff or rude though that is usually not their intent. As a result, their information can sometimes be discarded because of how it's delivered. If you manage this work style (and chances are good you do, because this work personality is often found in the IT arena), you may need to help this person work on his or her delivery so the message is more accepted. Others with this work style are very diplomatic and precise in their deliveryit all depends on how they display these analytical traits. They'll often need to learn to present their ideas and opinions in ways less offensive or abrasive to the group, but once mastered, they can be highly diplomatic.
You may also have to work with these analysts to provide specific details on deliverables as well as deadlines. Those with a strong analyst work style can feel there is insufficient information to draw conclusions or complete a project and as a result, they can fail to deliver on time. Create multiple checkpoints and ask questions that elicit information from them so you can help them move toward conclusion. Asking yes/no questions or making blanket demands ("I need that report by Friday morning, ok?") will probably not work. Instead, say "I need the XYZ report by Friday at noon. What will it take for you to complete this?"They may need to go back to their desk, think about it, analyze it, and then return with an answer. Allowing them to do so will result in far better outcomes.
Table 4.4 delineates the analyst's traits. The personal tendencies and the work environment show that there are both positive and negative traits that can surface. Clearly, aiming for the positive traits is the goal for each work style. The bottom section of the table shows the types of team members that will complement the analyst style so your team can be highly productive.