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How Managers Can Create A Productive Team Of Quirky Humans

Managing Different Personality Types at Work

You go into a team meeting with great intentions of meaningful collaborations, rallying troops toward common goals and getting through an agenda on time. Problem is, there are other humans in the room or on screen, and each has their own personality that shapes work style and interactions. Understanding individual personality characteristics and how to extract strengths will help managers achieve higher productivity and employee job satisfaction. And this insight will also help you keep meetings from getting derailed.

What is personality exactly?
The American Psychology Association describes personality as “individual differences in characteristic patterns of thinking, feeling and behaving.” Insight into a person’s personality may let you know things like how social they are or how they deal with upset or disappointment at work. With a few tips, managers should also be able to better understand what’s important to team members and where they see their strengths, and apply strategies to turn negative behavior around or improve performance. You don’t need a degree in psychology to effectively apply these approaches with your team. In fact, I’d bet you are already doing many great things already. But first, let’s talk about one of the big pitfalls.

Labeling personality types at work
Even though anyone can find resources that list many types of personalities you might find at work, categorizing people is dangerous. Let’s say you’ve done a surface assessment and view someone as highly analytical, and stereotypically not very creative. One might totally miss a rare game changing moment when the “analyst” has a brilliant, out of the box solution or idea, but they don’t speak up because they are staying in their lane. Or there is an “overachiever” label attached to someone who is aggressively building their career. A manager might overlook their input to let others speak up, rather than subtly changing the behavior of an overly enthusiastic contributor so they can add value to the conversation. 

We are all a blend of distinct personality characteristics based on our personal and professional experiences and environment. Just like Netflix doesn’t really know me based on what I’ve watched so far, we don’t know enough about employees on the surface to permanently put them in one type of box forever. When a manager does that, even subconsciously, other team members will pick up on it, further limiting the staff member.

Team with fists in middle gathered

Resolving conflicts
Different work styles and expectations can sometimes erupt in upset between two or more employees. Many community mediation services provide free tools to resolve conflicts. For an online resource, MindTools provides a good guide. An outline of steps includes:

1. Speak to team members individually
Have an informal one-on-one chat with each team member involved in the conflict, away from interruptions. This creates a safe, confidential setting for the conversation. Listen and don’t make assumptions. Ask the same questions of each party to remain impartial.

2. Bring people together
Once you have an understanding of the conflict and each person’s perspective, bring the parties together and act as a moderator.

3. Ask for ideas and draw up a plan
Ask the parties their ideas on how the conflict might be resolved. Ask them to help detail agreed upon actions and confirm their commitment to the plan.

4. Follow-up
Have one-on-one conversations to make sure issues have been resolved.

One caveat: the steps above generally apply to conflicts in communication or minor personality clashes. If problems are of a serious or physical nature, or where an incident needs documentation according to company policies, the manager should consult with HR, and possibly have an HR team member present.

Apply transparent communication
If a conflict affects the entire team, all team members should be involved in discussing resolution ideas and drawing up plans, and follow-up. The more a manager can involve the team in transparent communication about all initiatives, changes or developments, the more trust employees will have. They will be more engaged at work, enhancing job satisfaction.

Team building
If you have hiring authority or make team assignments, the ideal scenario is to have people with varied personalities and skill sets. These different perspectives often reveal blind spots that might occur among groups of similar thinking people. If department teams are already established, bringing together staff from other areas for a brainstorming session can help cross pollinate ideas. This type of sharing also lets one team better understand the needs and perspective of teams with a different focus.

Host fun team building events that let staff be themselves. This can be as simple as an in-office activity for a specific purpose, or an afternoon out of the office. Several boot camp type formats incorporate an activity with defining team goals, individual roles and responsibilities, self-leadership and relationship building. Incorporate creative ideas that spur inventive thought. You may observe some hidden strengths they aren’t even aware of. Take advantage of this energizing activity by following-up the next day with a group brainstorming session on the next big project.

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A better way to assess work personalities
Rather than putting people into personality boxes, it’s a good idea to understand who they are, what their goals are and what they care about the most. The best way to do this? Ask!

Your questions may be a little different than this advice from the book Elephants Before Unicorns: Emotionally Intelligent HR Strategies to Save Your Company, and that’s ok. But one important thing the author suggests is to provide the employee with your list in advance, and make sure they know there are no wrong answers. Here is an edited sample from the book:

  • What is your biggest strength at work?
  • What do you like most about your current role?
  • What is most inspiring about your work and why?
  • Is there something you would like to learn at work?
  • Would you like to learn from anyone in the organization?
  • What would you improve about your team (or group meetings) to make sure everyone feels included? 
  • What do you want to accomplish this month? This quarter?
  • What do you need from me to succeed?
  • How can we best measure your progress?
  • How would you prefer to be recognized for your achievements?

This is another listening opportunity. Don’t debate or disagree with anything shared. Even if you see the employee differently, this is how they see themselves, and that is important information for the methods you use to bring out strengths in their work.

Notice that these questions are all phrased positively—there is no question about what one does not like about their job. This keeps the focus strengths-oriented.

Assessments for larger teams or organizations
There are many online assessment tools available to organizations that help understand staff members and their strengths. Managers should take one too, to self-evaluate leadership strengths. One I like is StrengthsFinder. I took it recently and found the results fair and spot on.

How to focus on strengths
Strengths based leadership is a scientifically proven approach to optimizing teamwork. Renowned analytics and advice firm, Gallup, undertook a landmark 30-year research project that ignited people around the world around conversations about leadership. Gallup scientists continue to examine decades of data on the topic today. The foundation of their study highlights when sharing each member’s strengths, members understand the diversity of the whole, that each person has a role, and together they are stronger. Managers can make better individual assignments by strengths, such as assigning a “motivator” to an early round task of a project, and a “doer” to final key phases to ensure things get done on time. This approach also results in greater productivity and profitability.

Whether you conduct your own assessment or use a computer app, team members should get a report on their top strengths. Managers can incorporate each member’s key strength(s) into a group activity with the team. 

Following these tips, managers can create a diverse team, or cross pollinate with others to fill gaps; employ team building strategies; assess and survey each team member’s strengths; and align projects or tasks with employees with the skills and knowledge to be successful in executing them. Leading by strengths builds employees up by focusing on what they are good at and enhances a company’s bottom line.

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