During a recent podcast discussing human interactions that often trip us up, psychologist Adam Grant recently made a point that rings oh-so-true in my line of work: People don’t come with user manuals.
To which my first thought was, “But couldn’t they?!”
Every day, I hear concerns about miscommunication in the workplace. “He didn’t seem to understand that the brief was a priority for Monday morning.” “If I call her after emailing, she’ll think I’m a nag, but I don’t know what else to do.” “What’s so hard about knocking out the notes once the kids are in bed? That’s what I do.”
When messages get mixed (or ignored entirely), the consequences can range from mild annoyance with a colleague to a botched deal for a new client. Beyond the business consequences, think about all the energy and time we waste trying to figure out how other people work — the best times of day to approach them, the key fact or angle that will motivate them to act, or what roles they’ll assume in a group setting.
[Reference: "When", Daniel Pink]
Tools like the DISC cognitive behavioral assessment tell us that we can do better. The legal industry’s push for attorney well-being tells me that people want better. Making it happen is a matter of shifting our expectations about what’s possible at our organizations.
[Related: DISC: What Kind of Leader are You?, Business News Daily]
But first, let’s be real and agree that user manuals are a snooze that no one will read. A more realistic approach might look more like trading cards — the kind we collected as kids to tell us at-a-glance which characters have which powers, and when combined, which alliance would beat a certain challenge.
Because think about it: Swap “powers” for “strengths” and “alliance” for “workgroup,” and we’re basically talking about what HR leaders and project managers do every day. They determine staffing needs based on identified gaps and then fill them to offer everyone the best chance for success (aka “winning”).
Some organizations require personality assessments like DSC, StrengthsFinders, or Myers-Briggs during the interview process. At Fringe, we strive to take it one step further: We help teams make the relevant information from these assessments into a deck of cards (or something similar) that the whole team can see.
When a new hire joins the team, she can thumb through her deck of cards on her first day before interacting with a new colleague. She can see who prefers emails to in-person chats, who thrives on acting quickly and who prefers learning as much as possible before making a decision, who works late nights or early mornings, and other insights we tend only to discover after years of working with a person — if ever!
Similarly, everyone else on the team would get the new employee’s stats from the start. She would be able to skip the more traditional growing pains if others knew her modus operandi and what she brings to the team before the very first assignment. Everyone else would skip the growing pains of deciphering a new team member’s nuanced personality. No sensitive or confidential information would be shared, of course, but rather only the relevant things that would improve our working relationships.
And — power up! — your team can share its “deck” with other teams, subcontractors, consultants, and even clients. (OK, maybe clients are a stretch.) But the bottom line is that everyone can learn how to play together better and avoid the unnecessary, stress-inducing headaches of doing the still-getting-to-know-each-other dance. With trading cards, team leaders will have the information they need to be more effective people managers early on in an engagement, which will save everyone time and save the project money.
At Fringe, these are the types of team-building tools that I’ve found help colleagues communicate better — and more important, build authentic workplace relationships more quickly. So, while it’s true that people don’t come with user manuals, we’re certainly making the process of learning about each other harder than it needs to be.