Most leaders now recognize that the best teams leverage diversity to achieve long-term success. But many think about it in pretty narrow terms: gender, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, and/or age. Sometimes they also consider organizational attributes, like function or rank.
But there’s another kind of diversity that might be even more helpful: differences in work style — or the way in which we think about, organize, and complete tasks.
In any office you will find four basic types of people:
- Logical, analytical, and data-oriented
- Organized, plan-focused, and detail-oriented
- Supportive, expressive, and emotionally oriented
- Strategic, integrative, and idea-oriented
When members of a team, or leaders of an organization, all have the same style, you’ll quickly run into trouble. For example, if everyone in your group has a big-picture, strategic, intuitive approach to work and chafes against the structure of project plans, you might frequently be over budget and behind schedule. Or,
everyone has a linear, analytical, and planned approach to work and dislikes disruption, innovative new product development would be impossible.
So how do you promote and leverage work-style diversity?
Observe your team members
In poker, they call them tells — betting patterns or unconscious behavior you can use to guess your opponent’s hand. The same rules apply to work style.
To evaluate a report or colleague, think about the following questions:
- Does she consistently complete work early, in advance of deadlines or wait until the last minute?
- Does he send emails with only a few words or write novels?
- Does she gesture and use her hands while talking? Or is she more controlled and stoic in their movements?
These tells, both subtle and overt, will give you clues as to someone’s work style. You might also try to take this quick assessment from the perspective of each team member.
Because work styles are fairly ingrained, recruitment, not development, is the best way to build diversity in a group. If you find that one or two work styles are overrepresented, it’s probably time to add some fresh blood to your team.
Leverage everyone’s strengths
Your logical, analytical colleague is at her best when she is processing data and solving complex problems. She will focus like a laser on achieving any stated goal or outcome and will ensure that you stay on budget.
Your organized, detail oriented colleague’s strengths are in establishing order, structuring projects, and accurately completing tasks. He will ensure work is completed on time.
Your supportive, expressive colleague is most skilled at building relationships, facilitating team interaction, and persuading or selling ideas. She will keep all stakeholders up to date on work and effectively communicate ideas through the organization.
Your big-picture, integrative colleague can serve as a catalyst for change, brainstorming solutions to problems and synthesizing disparate thinking. He will drive innovation, ensure variety in both thought and execution and keep you moving forward.
Make sure that everyone understands the value each team member brings to the table and give people assignments in which they can use their skills to best effect.
Coach according to work style
To get the best from each person, consider using questions aligned to his or her respective work style.
For your logical, analytical colleague, ask:
- What is your goal?
- What are you seeking to achieve?
- Where can you find data that will help you make that decision?
For your organized, detail oriented colleague, ask:
- How can you make ________ work more effectively?
- How will you decide which step to take next?
- What has worked for you in the past?
For your supportive, expressive colleague, ask:
- How is your behavior impacting others?
- Who can support you in this?
- Who else needs to be involved?
For your big-picture, integrative colleague, ask:
- What would the ideal future state look like?
- What ideas do you have for addressing ________?
- If there was something else you could do, what would it be?
There is huge value to be gleaned when you leverage work style diversity by observing your team members, playing to their strengths, and giving them tailored coaching.