Dealing with Conflicting Work Styles

Adapted, with permission, from this article originally published on The Camp Whisperer.

Anytime you form a group, you can expect that conflicting styles will arise. We are all different, so it is incredibly natural that we have unique ways of going about our work. The larger your group, the greater the style variety.  Personalities will likely include the funny one, the serious one, the organized one, the laid-back one, the worrier, the pessimist, and people who embody combinations of several of these.  

A good practice is to take time to go through a personality test together (perhaps the Leadership CompassMyersBriggs, or Strengths Quest) and discuss the results.  The discussion piece is actually more important than the test itself, as it provides an opportunity for individuals to explain to each other about how their brain looks at situations. Knowing the unique gifts and perspectives of each staff member can do a lot to prevent the tension that comes from conflicting style.

Often, however, an afternoon discussing these differences is not enough to keep your staff functioning smoothly together.  They easily forget who has which strengths, or they never really understand how the other thought processes work.  Hearing that someone has the strength of Woo doesn't always lead others to understand how that might affect their working style. 

And understanding the other is key to preventing work style conflicts with your organization.

Some activities that can be helpful:

Mock situations

Do some tabletop exercises asking “What would you do?” questions.  When answers differ, get into the whys and hows.  Take time to discuss what role personality plays in the different reactions to the same situations. Experiencing these differences in a situation that has absolutely no true importance eliminates a great deal of stress and tension, allowing room for true listening.

Alter job descriptions

Be open to changing the responsibilities of staff members to better fit their personalities and work styles.  Even if a certain position has always included the task of writing the newsletter, if that person is not a particularly skilled writer it makes sense for someone else to take over that task. You can probably think of several situations in your own business right now where the person currently assigned to a specific task is actually not the best fit. As much as is practical, consider allowing people to trade some of those tasks to better suit their strengths.

Allow everyone one pet-peeve

If you do nothing else, do this!

Differences are good, but they are challenging as well. Allowing everyone one (no more!) pet-peeve is a specific, tangible way of recognizing the difficult work of being a group member.    Your staff will be grateful their individual quirks are being so clearly appreciated, and will generally be quite willing to avoid the pet-peeves they know of others. A couple of examples:

  1. Dirty dishes in the staff lounge. Everyone knows who feels this way, and is sure to avoid leaving dirty dishes when this staff member is around.
  2. Multiple e-mails. Staff know a certain staff member hates receiving multiple emails about the same topic, so everyone is careful to include everything they can in one.
  3. Pointless meetings. Because of this pet-peeve, staff are particularly careful that any meeting this individual is attending will be impactful and valuable.
  4. Whistling. Whistling just really bothers this person; everyone agrees not to whistle in the office when this person is there.

These are all simple requests that are easy to live with, and take only a bit of effort to be aware of and comply with. Try giving everyone a pet-peeve allotment (maybe try with a small group first) and see what changes there are in the group dynamics. You won't be disappointed.

Have clear expectations

Clear expectations allow differing work styles specific, measurable requirements that can be of great help to them. When they know exactly how far they are allowed to take their own preferred style, and how much they must keep within the style of their supervisor, they won't as easily cross those lines.

You may have a laid-back chef who has the tendency to last-minute menu alterations that require additional trips to the grocery store.  If this is a problem, set the clear expectation that any alterations need to be done without additional shopping trips.  Or you may have a disorganized staff member; what is the minimum expectation for tidiness at her desk?  Clearly lay out these expectations so your staff know what they need to strive for, even if it goes against their personal preferences.  Working with others is a give-and-take.

What other tips would you offer for dealing with conflicting work styles?