Every person we work with has dramatically different work styles — from communication preferences and ways of expressing themselves to things they value and like (and things they don’t). These traits affect how we collaborate and, as a result, how effectively a team operates.

Navigating these differences is a challenge to dance around each day. Should you approach your manager about the project timeline in their office, book a meeting in their calendar, send them an email – or spend time coming up with a solution to present to them before bringing it up? Finding the answer is a case of trial and error.

With all the moving parts and personalities involved in a project, we are bound to stumble, step on toes and even embarrassingly face-plant. What if the time and effort spent choreographing these different working styles was instead focused on the actual work at hand?

Many top CEOs started creating ‘how to work with me’ manuals to streamline working with them for their employees – outlining things like the best ways to work, communicate and collaborate with them.

I read this article about creating one of these manuals through a 15-minute exercise – and not just for upper-leadership, but the whole team creating their own guides. It has revolutionized the way teams collaborate and eased pain points that often are not spoken of. The benefits of these manuals hence apply across the entire company structure.

The activity

Using the following prompts from David Politis’s article to create a ‘how to work with me’ guide:

About you
  1. What are some honest, unfiltered things about you? 
  2. What drives you nuts? 
  3. What are your quirks? 
  4. How can people earn an extra gold star with you? 
  5. What qualities do you particularly value in people who work with you? 
  6. What are some things that people might misunderstand about you that you should clarify? 
How you interact with others
  1. How do you coach people to do their best work and develop their talents?
  2. What’s the best way to communicate with you? 
  3. What’s the best way to convince you to do something? 
  4. How do you like to give feedback? 
  5. How do you like to get feedback? 

(Source)

Once you’ve created this documentation about yourself (I suggest a Google Doc for easy updating and sharing), send it out to your coworkers, and they should do the same. Having a shared understanding of each other’s preferences and work styles means you won’t have to dance around each other anymore. Making your work life, and theirs, much easier.

As a lover of efficiency, improvement and self-development, I completed this exercise about my work style. It’s surprising how powerful putting together these answers was – I learned a lot. I hope this example inspires you to complete it for yourself (I’d love to read it if you’d share). This is my deal:

My ‘how to work with me’ guide

1. What are some honest, unfiltered things about you?

I’m the opposite of ‘fake it till you make it’

I don’t bullshit. I’m not going to talk about a subject I’m not well-versed in. I will be honest and clear about my strengths and capabilities. I round down on my skill level, rather than over-sell what I can do – under-promise and over-deliver.

I’m process driven

I see the value in process and how it makes work better and more efficient. Process, systems and efficiencies make me tick!

That doesn’t mean we can’t break the rules or adapt a process. I love testing, trying and changing processes. But there should be rules in place to start with, and we need to understand them before breaking them.

I am an under-emoter

I deal with excitement, passion, and challenges on an emotional level internally. I don’t outwardly emote or exaggerate what I’m feeling – often not expressing much at all.

If I am quiet, it doesn’t mean I am disagreeing or upset – but that I am listening, thinking and considering. I spend time observing until I know what to say. I think before I speak.

Being a creative director is great – it’s what I love. I LOVE what I get to do every day. This is what I am passionate about. I love the challenges I face and the problems I get to solve. I am genuinely thrilled to do what I do with people like you, even if I don’t express that.

I love to laugh

It is important to laugh. I have a good sense of humour (or at least I think I do 😜 ). I like to be happy and enjoy life. There are two ways of going through something: with laughter or without. I choose with laughter.

Laughter lightens the mood. It makes people relax and helps them relate to common experiences – all ingredients for engaged and meaningful meetings and work. Let’s have fun, work hard – and laugh together while doing it.

I want you to be happy

I’m doing what I love and I want you to enjoy the process of working with me. Your experience, as a client or coworker, is just as important as the experience of the users and customers we are designing for. If it isn’t enjoyable or working for you, let me know – that is a problem we can solve. Also, studies have shown that happy people are more productive.

2. What drives you nuts?

  • Inefficiencies
  • Poor communication
  • Tardiness
  • And specifically for coworkers: keep your files organized

3. What are your quirks?

I have an uncanny ability to inject a RuPaul’s Drag Race GIF or quote into any situation. Also, my 90s and 2000s Australian pop culture knowledge is astounding (do not come for me unless you followed Amity Dry’s musical career after The Block, can name every BBAU1 contestant and were a part of the official Casey Donovan fan forum).

4. How can people earn an extra gold star with you?

Do your work. Bring your talent and experience and show up. Laugh together. It will be great.

5. What qualities do you particularly value in people who work with you?

  • Honesty
  • Communication
  • Being upfront
  • Celebrating and championing others
  • I value people who are interested and invested in continuous learning and growth

6. What are some things that people might misunderstand about you that you should clarify?

My sarcasm can be misunderstood. It is intended to break any tension or make you smile. Sometimes it comes across the wrong way (especially in North America) but it comes from a good place.

7. How do you coach people to do their best work and develop their talents?

I aim to create a fun, engaging, open, environment for creativity and ideas to flow, and meaningful discussion and debate to occur. Everyone should be heard and feel comfortable to raise issues and propose ideas.

I believe in hiring and working with people who are smarter than me and bringing them into the light to shine.

I don’t believe in micro-management. I’ve experienced it with leaders in the past and, apart from being annoying, it is extremely counterproductive.

I bring my experience and talent – and you bring yours. I believe I can learn from you as much as you can learn from me. If there is anything I can share with you, I’m an open book – go ahead and ask.

We all rise together.

8. What’s the best way to communicate with you?

Communicate early and often. Unable to meet a deadline? Don’t understand a task? Let’s talk as soon as possible. Reevaluating a problem or reallocating resources is easier at earlier stages with more time to adjust.

I am flexible on communication – but with that said, I’m invested in being the most efficient version of myself. No one wants to be distracted by Slack messages every 2 minutes. Instant messages about small issues throughout the day can pile up and result in hours of wasted back-and-forth time. They pull me out of the creative zone and impact both focus and output.

If it’s urgent, by all means – send me a Slack message. If the request isn’t urgent, I prefer email. I value my inbox and treat it as a to-do list throughout the day. It might not be instant, but you will get a reply to an email. If it’s more efficient to pick up the phone (or book a video call), then don’t hesitate to do so. My calendar is open for you to view and schedule a call — or ask if it isn’t.

If you’re thoughtful in your communication, I truly value that and I thank you. It means a lot.

I do want to make sure that you’re getting what you need as far as communication, so let’s discuss it. Each project and client has unique requirements – and so should that project’s communication protocols.

9. What’s the best way to convince you to do something?

I believe I’m pretty easy to convince.

If we’re talking about a task, just ask me. Let me know what needs to be done and the priority. I’m driven by the “why” behind the task – so let me know. I do my best work when I understand and the bigger picture.

If we’re talking about implementing a new process or initiative – let’s talk about it. If it aligns with the goals and KPIs and fits in within the brand experience — this is what excites me. I love trying new things, testing and seeing how we can improve. Let’s go for it!

10. How do you like to give feedback?

I don’t want to dictate what changes should be or how I think you should solve it – so don’t expect that (unless you ask).

I’ve experienced years of design critiques and feedback, I’ve found open communication lines to be most useful – a healthy back and forth. Pushback is a real thing if you don’t agree with my feedback I want to know. Discussion and debate are healthy, and often essential to a project. I want to ensure that dialogue is open between us.

When talking through a deliverable, I want it to be a safe space for whatever conversations need to happen. I want you to experience my feedback in a manner that is valuable for you. I want us to both feel valued and heard (because you can push back) – let’s create that space together.

11. How do you like to get feedback?

Feedback plays such an important role in design. We design from our own perspective and with our own bias (as much as we try to avoid it, it’s impossible) – and that can be dangerous. Feedback from a different perspective will only make my work better.

I love feedback. Give feedback as early as possible and often. Don’t wait to give feedback. If you need time to digest and think things through, that’s great, please do – just let me know.

A frustrating experience is to get feedback only on the finished product. It wastes time and often means backtracking. Bring yourself to all rounds of feedback.  Remember how I said I like efficiency. Very that.

If you don’t understand what to give feedback on or how, ask, ask again, and keep asking until you know what feedback is required.

Whatever you think of my work – I can handle it (and I’ve probably heard worse, design school does a good job of preparing you for harsh critiques). Don’t be afraid of offending me. I’d rather re-evaluate and get it right than have an unhappy client – or deliver a poor solution.

I suggest everyone complete this activity. I know these as truths about myself somewhere in my mind – but writing them down has made me think them through and articulate my preferences and exactly what I need to be successful. This is a powerful exercise that has helped me in my work; and there are endless benefits completing it.

Now you know me, want to work with me?

Say hello!

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