Take a quick look at this picture. What do you see? Is it a young woman looking away? Or the profile of an old lady? (The answer is: both.) Much like the dress, this optical illusion reveals a fundamental truth about human perception: Two people can observe the exact same scenario, conversation—or internet meme—and have wildly different ideas of their experience. As it turns out, this has a lot to do with teamwork.
That’s what the marketing team at Asana took away from a recent Insights Discovery session. Based on Carl Jung’s work on psychological types, the session aims to show participants how personality traits influence individual working styles and team dynamics. Before the session we each took surveys online to figure out our personality types, and then compared our results with each other in the same room.
By uncovering the essence of everyone’s personality, we hoped to gain a better understanding of each team member’s working style and how to work together more effectively. And maybe, we’d even do a trust fall. (Sadly, we didn’t.)
Spotting personality types
In the Harvard Business Review, Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic and Dave Winsborough point out that “the dynamics of interpersonal relationships depend on individuals’ personalities, not on hard skills or expertise.” Teammates can get better at managing projects or giving presentations with practice and coaching, but they aren’t going to suddenly stop being themselves—reserved and laid-back or assertive and competitive—any time soon.
This is why it’s crucial to recognize the distinct personality types of your team members (as well as your own) in order to be able to adapt mindfully to different working styles. To help you, we’ve broken down the key characteristics of several working styles—based on what we learned from our Insights Discovery session and other research on the topic. We’ve also come up with a few strategies for how to best communicate and work with each style.
Teammates can get better at managing projects or giving presentations with practice and coaching, but they aren’t going to suddenly stop being themselves.
Commanders vs. Supporters
Observe any team meeting and there’s usually one or two people driving the agenda, asking questions in rapid-fire succession, and demanding to see the latest Key Performance Indicators. These are the commanders of your team. They’re assertive, decisive, and laser-focused on goals and results. Usually the person in charge, commanders prefer swift action over excessive deliberation or office chit-chat. If you’ve ever worked with this personality type, you may have been on the receiving end of an ALL-CAPS, I-need-this-done-now, kind of message from them.
Although commanders can sometimes seem impatient or overly blunt, it would be unfair to characterize them as the office jerk. They simply prefer to communicate in a direct manner and focus on aspects of work that are most clearly tied to results. The most effective way to work with this personality type is to be similarly direct and relentlessly focused on priorities. In other words, don’t send them a 600-word message detailing every nuance of your project plan.
Supporters are more relaxed and primarily focus on what’s in front of them. They’re consistent and reliable teammates when it comes to accomplishing tasks, and are naturally supportive and encouraging of others. They enjoy being individual contributors, take time to listen to multiple perspectives, and are happy to let others take charge.
Because of their laid back approach to work, supporters may be misperceived as the team slackers. They prefer routine so they’re not always the most proactive teammates, and can be slow to adopt new processes. And they don’t necessarily want to become managers either. The best way to approach supporters, particularly if you identify as a commander, is to be patient and give them the space to express their feelings. Avoid rushing them to make quick decisions or disrupting their routine with last-minute fire drills.
Dreamers vs. Doers
Do you know people at work who love scheduling brainstorm meetings and enthusiastically rattle off new ideas every chance they get? If so, you’ve encountered the dreamers. Seen as ideas people, dreamers enjoy talking to others about their high-level vision and do so in an engaging way. Their strengths lie in their open communication style and ability to get teammates on board with their ideas.
Where dreamers tend to get bogged down is in the detailed execution of all their ideas. Show them a project timeline and they’ll quickly fall asleep. Instead, approach them with the same level of energy for ideas that they bring to the table and remain flexible to keep up with their dynamic personality. When you’re thinking about how to staff big projects, it’s not a bad idea to balance out the creative strengths of a dreamer with the detail-oriented disposition of a doer.
Doers, as their name suggests, get things done—even when there are lots of moving pieces in a complex project. Their secret is being super organized and precise in their thinking. Doers value structure and can juggle lots of tiny details to ensure tasks get completed when they should be. Their biggest fear is that they’ll drop the ball on something, so they make it a point to gather as much information as possible before acting on something.
Every now and then, doers can get into the weeds of project details too much and lose sight of the bigger picture. This is where a dreamer (or a commander) can help by regrounding in the overall vision and goals of a project. And when working with a doer, be sure to communicate in writing and give them ample lead time when you need them to make a big decision.
When you’re thinking about how to staff big projects, it’s not a bad idea to balance out the creative strengths of a dreamer with the detail-oriented disposition of a doer.
Butterflies vs. Wallflowers
Fundamental to understanding individual working styles is becoming aware of how people get their energy. Although plenty has been written about extraversion versus introversion—and there’s some overlap with the working styles outlined above—it’s worth revisiting here because lack of mutual understanding between extroverts and introverts in the workplace still exists.
Butterflies, or extroverts, draw their energy from being around lots of people and socializing in bold and assertive ways. At work, butterflies are first to volunteer to lead team meetings, will seek out client-facing opportunities, and can be found chatting away with coworkers about just about anything. For the office wallflowers, or introverts, this can be incredibly distracting. Wallflowers get their energy from quiet, contemplative work (they’re not necessarily shy, though) and can usually be found hiding in their offices, if they have one, or other quiet corners.
Interpersonal conflicts in the office tend to arise when extroverts and introverts expect each other to be something they are not. As Susan Cain, author of The Power of Introverts, observes in her TED talk, “Our most important institutions, our schools and our workplaces—they are designed mostly for extroverts and for extroverts’ needs for lots of stimulation.” So when a social butterfly unwittingly seeks out a wallflower to participate in a group working session—and wallflowers decline the invitation—neither team member gets what they need (or want) in order to work effectively.
Interpersonal conflicts in the office tend to arise when extroverts and introverts expect each other to be something they are not.
A diversity of working styles
While you (or your teammates) may recognize yourself most clearly with one particularly working style, remember that there’s a whole spectrum of personality traits and human behaviors. Some styles may be similar or overlap, and you may find yourself on the same team as your opposite type.
That’s not to say that commanders and supporters or dreamers and doers can’t work together effectively. Rather, being aware of your core working style—as well as those of your teammates—allows you to adjust and adapt your behaviors in the moment to meet each person where they are. And by mindfully balancing the diversity of working styles on your team, the sum of everyone’s strengths becomes greater than individual personality traits.
What’s your working style? Let us know in the comments.