How Understanding Work Styles Builds Better Teams and Partnerships, The MDC Group

Understanding individual work styles provides businesses a practical approach to evaluating employees, setting goals, assigning tasks, and building strong teams. Many studies have been done, and articles or papers written about people’s different work styles. Some experts divide styles into four categories and others five, but whichever categories an employer or team leader uses, identifying each employee’s type can help create healthier, more productive partnerships and teams. Companies can make smarter choices when hiring by determining how an applicant’s work style fits with the organization’s needs and culture.

A person’s work style is their general approach to a job and strategy for overcoming obstacles and accomplishing specified goals. The style reflects personality traits and communication preferences, and techniques. Some people like working alone, and others in groups, where they can share ideas and get feedback. Some are better at big picture thinking, while others sweat the details. Getting the right combination of people together is key to business success and team harmony.

According to Tony Robbins, author, motivational speaker, and business coach, there are five basic work styles, independent, cooperative, proximity, supportive, and big picture.

  1. Independent people prefer working individually. In fact, they may have difficulty working with others or under close supervision. Independent workers are great for entrepreneurial, creative, research, and laboratory science positions.
  2. Cooperative individuals work best in a group setting. They like sharing tasks and getting and giving feedback. They tend to be good communicators and are ideal for sales positions, human relations resources, and project managers.
  3. Proximity individuals fit somewhere between the first two styles. They like working with others but overseeing their own projects. Proximity people can fit into many positions and often make good leaders.
  4. Supportive people are nurturers. They want to establish deep connections with clients and coworkers, and they love collaboration and being part of a successful team. They are emotionally aware and sensitive but may struggle to lead or make tough decisions if they are too empathetic.
  5. Big Picture individuals understand and embrace the company vision. They are the big idea members of a team and make great team leaders. They are innovative and analytical but may need a coworker to handle details and keep them on track. divides people into four work style categories: Logical, Detail Oriented, Supportive, and Idea-Oriented. These four are like the categories Robbins describes, leaving out proximity, a blend of two other types.

The logical category encompasses individuals who are data-driven, linear thinkers. They can be so focused that they don’t communicate enough, and they may not be great big-picture planners. Logical and Tony Robbins’ independent categories are similar.

The detail-oriented group includes the most strategic and organized individuals. Every team needs these detail people because they are pragmatic and approach each project thoughtfully and carefully. However, they may not be great at completing tasks on schedule without assistance.

This supportive category is the same as the one previously described. These folks are sensitive and relationship-oriented.

The idea-oriented are big picture people and tend to be very energetic and enthusiastic but may not be as detail-oriented as others.

Harvard Business Review uses four categories.

  • Logical, analytical, and data-oriented
  • Organized, plan-focused, and detail-oriented
  • Supportive, expressive, and emotionally-oriented
  • Strategic, integrative, and idea-oriented

Regardless of which set of categories a manager or business owner uses, understanding how to evaluate applicants and team members as to their work styles helps them make the best hiring choices and build better project teams or partnerships. Managers who are aware of the different categories may be able to see patterns in each team member’s work habits and behaviors over time. For new or potential members, there are other ways to determine where applicants fit.

In an interview, you can start with a general question about work or learning styles, but there are better ways to get the information you need. Well-prepared and self-aware applicants might have a great, articulate answer to “What’s your work (or learning or communication) style?” However, the answer may not be completely truthful or accurate. While they don’t usually intend to be dishonest, candidates often prepare answers they think will get them hired.

Instead of a general question about styles, you can ask open-ended scenario questions requiring an answer in story form. For example,

  • “Tell me about a situation where you overcame a big obstacle in your last job.”
  • “Describe the role you played in a successful group project.”
  • ”Tell me about your favorite boss and why you liked them.”

Answers to open-ended questions often reveal an applicant’s strengths and preferences. The answers can give an interviewer clues about how the applicant works best. For example, someone who likes a boss because they let people operate independently might fit in the independent category. Someone who worked out a problem by asking coworkers for ideas fits a cooperative niche. There are sources for good interview questions like and, but interviewers know what they need for any given position and can design their own questions.

Another way to get the information needed is to use testing tools. Many organizations, including The MDC Group, use The Predictive Index (PI) to better understand how each team member can work better together. They also use the tool as a hiring/interview guide. Aligning one’s PI with their daily role and responsibilities improves job satisfaction and reduces stress. The PI System has two components: Predictive Index Cognitive Assessment (PICA) and Predictive Index Behavioral Assessment (PIBA). The first one tests cognitive skills and abstract intelligence. PIBA measures an individual’s fitness for a company’s culture. It considers personal motivations and needs.

Once a businessperson categorizes team members or applicants, they must be strategic about choosing who does each job and who works together with whom. For example, you need a good detail person on a team and maybe a big picture member. If a project or department needs lots of give and take, make sure you have cooperative, proximity, and supportive people. Hire or include people who complement each other. If there’s a component for an independent thinker, great, but don’t hire someone from that category and expect that they will always be a great team player. They will be unhappy, as will everyone else. Keep company culture in mind when choosing new employees. If your company is collaborative, you need lots of cooperative or proximity people who will be happy in a company environment based on comprehensive communication.


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