By Heidi Zak
A large part of effective communication comes down to personality and preferred working styles.
As your company grows, you’ll inevitably reach a point where you look around and realize people aren’t communicating as well as they used to.
It’s likely not because of anything you’ve done wrong. When you have a smaller team, people can lean back in their chairs and talk to each other from a few feet away. A close startup environment supports plenty of cross-functional dialogue.
As your company expands, teams start to become little islands–and communication isn’t as simple as tapping someone on the shoulder. The obvious solution is to implement protocols and procedures for better communication.
A large part of effective communication comes down to personality and preferred working styles. When you understand the type of person you’re talking to, you have a better sense of how to get your point across in a way that will get things done quickly.
With that in mind, I had my entire leadership team take a profile test for an executive off-site. It was really interesting–we now know everyone’s leadership styles and why our team dynamics play out the way they do.
Here’s how to understand the preferred leadership style of your team and improve communication:
Start by having all senior leaders take a comprehensive leadership test.
There are plenty of tests out there. Whichever one you choose, I’d suggest really committing to it and letting everyone get used to it before making a decision on its efficacy. I decided to go with the DiSC profile, where each letter represents a unique style:
- D stands for dominant. These people are action-oriented–the type who knows what they want to be done and will bluntly tell someone what that is.
- I stands for influence. These leaders are enthusiastic and optimistic, and they like to persuade people to come around to their view.
- C stands for conscientiousness. This leader is independent and values objective reasoning. They like to have all the details before making a decision, and they want it to be as accurate as possible.
- S stands for steadiness. They’re very calm and don’t like to be rushed. They also value cooperation and support when it comes to leadership.
We found out the vast majority of our leadership team leads by dominance or influence. I’m a strong influence leader, while my co-founder, Dave, and our Chief Creative Officer, Ra’el, lean toward a dominance style.
It’s not surprising most leadership positions are filled with people who are focused on getting things done rather than waiting for the minute details. A notable exception was our VP of Finance, who is conscientiousness. And that makes complete sense. In fact, I’d be worried if she wasn’t. That’s absolutely a position where you need all the details, and your data has to be as accurate as possible.
Once your leaders understand their specific styles, it’s time for the next step.
Use the new-found knowledge to improve communication among your leadership team.
The test gives you a framework for understanding how the people around you operate, and how you can successfully navigate any differences between your style and theirs. Once you know another person’s type, you have a better understanding of how to approach them.
Personally, I’m more optimistic and enthusiastic. Part of that means I do better when people come to me with an issue that’s framed as an opportunity. I don’t react as well when a doomsday scenario is suddenly thrown in my lap.
On the other hand, Dave, as a D type, does much better when issues are presented as dire problems that need solving. He’s immediately ready to dive in and fix it.
Everyone gets to the same place eventually. If you know how to frame each communication, you can make the process as quick and painless as possible.
Encourage leaders to share the different styles and communication techniques with their teams.
The results of the test get even more interesting when you apply them down the ladder to your broader teams. You really begin to see, at the team level, how everyone’s different styles and approaches interact. There’s a good chance you’ll find that marketing, finance, sales, and other teams have distinctive groupings of styles.
It helps you understand how these teams operate, and it helps the team leaders become better managers. You know how to discuss issues with them, and they know how to bring those issues to the attention of their team in the most effective manner.
A test isn’t a perfect solution, of course. It won’t solve all your communication problems immediately. But it’s good for everyone to be cognizant of the different leadership styles people have, and to at least make an attempt to tailor certain interactions to the style of the person they’re addressing.
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