Work styles refer to the unique ways that people get their work done. By determining your team members’ work styles, you’ll be better equipped to motivate them and set them up for success. In this article, we explore some common work styles and walk through how you can fit together on a team.
Workplace collaboration isn’t always a walk in the park. However, bringing diverse minds together can also be a very powerful thing. More collaborative teams lead to increased productivity, creativity, and growth opportunities.
As a leader, it’s important to reflect on your own work style and empower your team members to understand theirs, too. Only then will your team members be able to collaborate effectively and produce their best work. This guide explains how to make that happen.
Work styles are the ways your personality impacts your work. It’s about what you enjoy doing, the way you naturally work, and what you’re good at. Understanding your work style is key to advancing in your career goals and synergizing with others.
Unfortunately, over-indexing on personality types and other identifiers can often cause you to develop limiting beliefs, or restricting judgments about yourself. These can diminish your self-esteem, cause impostor syndrome, introduce negativity to an otherwise positive collaborative space, and damage team morale.
This is why it’s important not to let your personal work style define you. Rather, it should empower you to capitalize on your strengths, improve your weaknesses, and understand how to work better with others.Free 1:1 meeting template
While not everyone can be neatly defined by one work style, understanding the six main working styles can help you better understand yourself and your team members. Only then can you provide everyone with what they need to do their job well. Below we explore six types of work styles.
We encourage you to first understand your own working style before identifying those of your team members. This will help you notice and avoid any biases you may have about work as you help your team members.
Key strengths: Determined, hardworking, skilled at creating unique and visionary work
Areas to improve: Poor communication, not easy to manage, often overlook the planning phase
Independent or logical team members, also known as doers, need their own space to do great work. Supervision and micro-managing aren’t your cup of tea, as you’d much rather tackle problems solo.
You tend to be great at problem framing—you can look at an obstacle and analyze it to come up with a logical, well-formulated solution. This often results in unique and visionary ideas that deliver a lot of value.
However, with this lone wolf work style, you might struggle with more collaborative work. You may feel that your focus gets derailed by instruction and idea sharing, resulting in a lack of planning and communication.
Example team member with an independent or logical working style: Consider a wide-eyed entrepreneur. You create your own compass rather than following another’s. When told how to dream or where to place your focus, you often struggle to put forward your best work.
Key strengths: Great communicator, highly interpersonal
Areas to improve: Performing independently
On the opposite end of the work style spectrum, we have the cooperative worker. You love teamwork in the workplace and thrive when giving and receiving feedback.
Rather than writing ideas in a notebook, you prefer to express your ideas verbally and develop them with the help of the group. For this reason, cooperative team members tend to excel at communication.
Of course, as the opposite of the independent worker, individuals with a cooperative work style often struggle to work alone. Ideas may not come as naturally without collaboration, or you may feel restless without frequent team interaction.
Example team members with cooperative working styles: Hiring managers and project management specialists often fall into the collaborative category. Not only is your work highly interpersonal, but you value having your ideas seen by another set of eyes before implementing.
Key strengths: Adaptable, balanced
Areas to improve: Not all projects allow for a solo/teamwork balance
With a proximity work style you perform a careful balancing act—you value solo work without sacrificing collaboration. You may prefer to take a task and work it out yourself, then return to the team and receive feedback to make your work better.
People with this style reap the benefits of autonomy without needing to isolate themselves from their team members. You also benefit from socializing and receiving help, making proximity one of the most adaptable work styles.
While there isn’t much that proximity team members can’t do, not every work environment allows for this perfect balance between interaction and heads-down work. Creating a spreadsheet usually doesn’t have a “collaboration stage” just as a team meeting doesn’t always offer time to think and work alone.
Example team members with proximity working styles: Due to the adaptability of proximity working styles, you can perform well in nearly every area of business, from management to finance to marketing.
Key strengths: Emotionally intelligent, self-aware, skilled at mediating conflict, excellent at facilitating collaboration
Areas to improve: Can get distracted, may struggle to make tough decisions
Think of the most empathetic team members in your organization. Chances are, they have a supportive work style. Supportive team members strive to form strong relationships and improve team morale. This often makes you a great mediator and peacemaker when conflict arises.
Supportive team members have a superpower: keen emotional sensitivity. If someone on your team is having a bad day or struggling to complete tasks, you’ll be the first to notice. You can lean on them to identify an unspoken problem that may, in the moment, just feel like some tension in the air.
However, emotional intelligence can also be distracting at times. When there’s a major decision to make but something doesn’t feel quite right to the supportive worker, you may not be able to move forward until it’s worked out.
In the same vein, supportive team members may feel uncomfortable confronting a disruptive teammate, as you may worry about that team member’s reaction.
Example team members with supportive working styles: Managers and members of your operations or HR team may have supportive work styles, as your jobs require attention to your team’s needs. Team members who step up for volunteer roles, such as event planning or mentor programs, may also fall into the supportive work style.Read: Listening to understand: How to practice active listening (with examples)
Key strengths: Strategic, thoughtful, practiced at minimizing risks, effective at providing order and stability
Areas to improve: Working slowly, getting too caught up in details, seeing the big picture
If you need someone who dots every “i” and crosses every “t,” look to the detail-oriented worker. Also known as learners, these individuals are first to read the fine print. If you fit this style, you tend to be extremely strategic and data-oriented, thinking through small details that could become bigger issues down the road.
You can trust a detail-oriented team member to minimize risk, like correcting errors before a document ever touches the boss’ desk. Accuracy (specifically in wording and grammar) matters a lot to you, to the point that there’s very little room for imperfection.
Of course, detail-orientation can sometimes feel overwhelming. Nothing is perfect, yet the detail-oriented worker doesn’t settle for anything less than perfection. This can cause you to quickly experience burnout and fatigue. It can also stall a project’s progress.
Example team members with detail-oriented working styles: Writing, editing, and teaching are professions that attract many detail-oriented team members.
Key strengths: Optimistic, inspiring to others, effective at facilitating change
Areas to improve: Unstructured, may neglect details, often fail to follow-up
The opposite of the detail-oriented work style is the idea-oriented work style. These big-picture thinkers help facilitate large-scale change. Essentially, you put away the magnifying glass and pull out the telescope.
While idea-oriented team members inspire their teammates to dream outside the box, you don’t tend to organize details well. It’s a highly unstructured work style that often places the brunt of the work on people who are better at planning.
Example team members with idea-oriented working styles: Idea-oriented individuals are typically in more artistic or big-picture company roles, such as marketing, graphic design, or even senior leadership.Free 1:1 meeting template
So, what is your work style?
Since work styles are often subconscious, it isn’t always easy to notice which one fits you best. As we mentioned before, not everyone will cleanly fit into one of these work styles. Some people may be a cross between two or more of them.
To help determine your work style, we’ll explore some tips that will help you better understand your work style and those of your team members.
We often associate the ways we communicate with our personalities. Certain communication styles correlate very closely with specific types of people. For example, people who communicate directly tend to be more extroverted and less sensitive.
The same goes for working styles. Idea-oriented individuals tend to be charismatic individuals that speak loudly and use hand gestures to communicate their ideas. On the other hand, supportive individuals often prefer one-on-one communication with their peers and are active listeners. You’ll likely see them making eye contact, nodding their heads, and allowing their emotions to show on their faces.Read: Nonverbal communication tips: How to encode and decode nonverbal cues
Imagine yourself collaborating on a project with a team. Without over-thinking, what part of the project do you gravitate toward?
Do you want to outline the project plan then step back? If so, you might have an idea-oriented work style.
Do you prefer talking through the project with the whole team before getting started? If so, you might have a collaborative or supportive work style.
Do you want to complete the bulk of the project yourself? If so, you might have an independent or logical work style.
Are you the teammate who stays up late the night before to proofread everything and make edits? If so, you might have a detail-oriented work style.
When working with a team, you likely adopt the role that makes you feel most helpful. While this inclination may be subconscious, paying attention to it can help you determine your work style.
When you’re on the job, what makes you feel happiest?
Do you feel a sense of accomplishment when organizing things and checking tasks off your to-do list? This points to detail-orientation.
Do you enjoy creating an agenda for a meeting, but then allow the meeting conversation to naturally ebb and flow? This points to a proximity work style.
Do you feel most fulfilled helping your fellow team members complete complicated tasks? This points to collaborative and supportive work styles.
Work styles aren’t just about what you’re good at. They’re also about what you love doing—what makes you feel job satisfaction.
Often, there’s some dissonance between what we want to do and what we spend most of our time doing at work. Pay close attention to how you allocate the hours of your day.
If you’re spending far more time than you need to on a certain task, this task probably doesn’t align with your work style. While you may not be able to cut that task out altogether, you can move forward with greater awareness and potentially find ways to make it more doable.
On the other hand, if you notice that you breeze through a task that takes your team members several hours or days to complete, you may have found your forte.Read: The secret to stop procrastinating at work
How do you approach conflict? Are you avoidant, do you compete to win, or do you seek opportunities for compromise?
Conflict styles can connect to certain work styles better than others. For example, those with an independent work style may welcome conflict because you don’t fear disagreement with the group, whereas those with a supportive work style may attempt to avoid conflict or resolve it as quickly as possible.
On the other hand, it’s difficult to pinpoint an idea-oriented individual’s conflict style without knowing more about their personality. You may lean independent and believe your ideas are perfect without others’ interference, or you may lean cooperative and love when others contribute their controversial ideas.
Often, the workday can distract you from self-reflection, making it difficult to pinpoint your work style. That’s where personality and work style tests come in.
These tests simulate scenarios and ask pointed questions about how you would act in those situations. Here are some common personality and work style tests:
Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI): The MBTI has gained a lot of traction in recent years. It determines one’s personality based on four sets of factors: introversion/extraversion, sensing/intuition, thinking/feeling, and judging/perceiving. There are 16 personality possibilities, and where you fall can tell you a lot about your work style.
Revised NEO Personality Inventory: This personality test determines where you stand in relation to five personality traits: openness, conscientiousness, extroversion, agreeableness, and neuroticism. The acronym OCEAN can help you remember these traits. Where you stand often says a lot about how you work.
SHL Occupational Personality Questionnaire: This questionnaire helps bridge the gap between personality type and work style. It determines how one’s personality traits and behavior influence work performance. This is a great tool for determining whether someone is a fit for a job, though it shouldn’t stand alone.
While these tests can provide some insight, you shouldn’t assign a work style based solely on a personality test. Instead, take results with a grain of salt. They’re just one piece of the puzzle as you work to understand yourself both inside and outside of the office.Free 1:1 meeting template
Working with a cross-functional team of diverse work styles can be tricky. People have different priorities, skills, and ways of operating.
However, this is also what makes diverse teams so impactful. They’re great at problem-solving and always bring creative ideas to the table. If you’re wondering how to get your team of different work styles to collaborate well, we map out a strategy below.
Identifying team members’ work styles requires careful observation. Notice signs such as the length of their emails, how long they spend on projects, and their communication style to categorize them using the work styles outlined above.
Another great way to identify work styles is to assign your team a project and watch how each person chats with their team members. It should quickly become apparent what gives each person energy and satisfaction.
Nobody wants to do work they don’t enjoy and aren’t equipped to do. Now that you know your team members’ strengths, you can assign them the team roles that best fit their work style.
For example, a detail-oriented team member may struggle to brainstorm a new product idea. If so, try pairing them with an independent team member or an idea-oriented team member who can support them.
Likewise, a supportive or collaborative team member likely won’t excel at developing a project plan at their desk. Try to find a way for them to plan while engaging with the group, encouraging idea sharing, and helping to overcome roadblocks.
This isn’t to say that team members should only be assigned tasks that perfectly align with their work styles. New projects outside of one’s comfort zone present the opportunity to learn and grow. Rather, when challenged with something new, team members should always be equipped with the support they need to succeed.
As we’ve already established, work style and personality go hand-in-hand. It should come as no surprise that one’s work style says a lot about how they prefer to learn. When coaching your team, remember to cater your efforts to their individual style.
For example, it’s important to approach coaching independent team members carefully. They’re hyper-sensitive to micromanagement, so you’ll want to treat them professionally and give them creative control.
Cooperative team members, on the other hand, respond very well to feedback. In fact, feedback and idea sharing are at the core of their work style. Even further, detail-oriented team members may need extensive and detailed feedback. Otherwise, they may return to your office with a long list of clarifying questions.Read: 8 tips for doing macromanagement the right way
While you likely won’t have every work style together in one place (unless you’re working with a very large team), it’s important to bring together as many styles as possible. This diversifies the strengths you have available and will make your team an unstoppable force.
Imagine a team filled entirely with analytical, detail-oriented team members. Not only would progress toward any goals move very slowly, but the team would likely struggle to come up with anything innovative or creative.
Likewise, a totally idea-oriented team would have no structure—nobody to write down the ideas, build them out, and create a step-by-step plan out of them.
Solving business problems isn’t a job for one type of brain—it’s a job for many. As projects become increasingly complex, you need several perspectives and skill sets to tackle them. As a leader, it’s your responsibility to use your work style and those of your team members to improve company culture and accomplish something great.Free 1:1 meeting template