One of the tenets of successful collaboration is that there are no leaders. Instead, each member of the collaborative group is an equal partner in the outcome and takes ownership of a part of the project. Members step up as needed and then recede when another role is required. Think of Balanchine choreography where dancers come forward when it is their turn to shine and then they step back to allow someone else to come to fore. While it might be a challenge to give up control, the benefit is that the group collaborative effort produces a better result.
In our collaborative groups in my Innovation, Collaboration and Entrepreneurship class at the Yale School of Music, we quickly found that a big challenge in having equal participation arose from the different communication styles of the members of the group. Each group found that there were certain people who naturally dominated the group and acted like the leaders. This tended to shut down those who needed more time or more information to share their ideas and reach a decision. Similarly, those who cared a lot about the group dynamic needed to get to know their collaborators and trust that their ideas would be respected before they felt comfortable speaking up. Other group members were eager to share their ideas right off the bat, which frustrated colleagues who cared about precision, detail, and the logical unfolding of the projects. The different styles that were present in each group, combined with the pressures of limited meeting time and busy schedules, created a challenge for smooth collaboration.
What helped our students was to learn how to leverage the 4 basic communication styles:
Driver: the person who likes to take control and come quickly to a decision
Analytic: the person who focuses on details and data before making a decision
Amiable: the person who cares about the relationships in the group and needs to feel comfortable in order to share her ideas
Expressive: the person who bubbles over with ideas and focuses on the big picture rather than the details
Check out the chart for a nice summary of the four styles!
To learn how to use the different styles effectively, each student took a communication styles assessment to discover his or her default style(s). We then examined the advantages and disadvantages of each style and came up with strategies of how to use one’s style appropriately, as well as adapt oneself to the styles of others. Using and flexing to the 4 communication styles turned out to be critical to successful collaboration because the more each collaborator felt invested in and contributed to the process, the better the outcome.
Here’s how our students worked through the challenge of interacting with other communication styles and learned some very valuable lessons about how to collaborate.
Our class consisted primarily of drivers and amiables, with a few people identifying themselves as primarily analytical. To add to the dynamic, many students identified with the expressive style as well. Let’s see how the various styles played out.
Each of our four collaborative group had at least one driver.
Our drivers thrived on being in charge, getting things done and coming to a decision quickly, especially when there was limited time. They were great at delegating tasks and keeping the rest of the group on track. However, especially in the beginning of the semester, they tended to be impatient with the colleagues who needed to mull things over, get more facts and data or those who were excited to brainstorm and come up with lots of ideas. Indeed, they perceived a problem with the members who did not take the initiative to make decisions or schedule meetings.
The downside was that other non-driver members found their driver colleagues to be slightly abrasive and bossy. In addition, in one group, the only topics to be discussed were those proposed by the driver, which tended to shut down the other members of the group until they felt more comfortable asserting themselves.
Another dynamic came into play when one of the drivers tried to rein in his tendency to get to a quick decision. He reported being enormously frustrated with the endless chain of ideas that did not seem to go anywhere. He finally decided to take charge and offered to organize the meetings. To his surprise, his colleagues were very happy to have him run the meetings and the group was able to make much more progress with a structure in place.
However, as the groups progressed in their work, the dynamic changed as the drivers came to appreciate the contributions of those with other styles.
One driver reported that she liked taking charge because she thought she had the best ideas and was therefore impatient when her colleagues wanted to discuss and brainstorm. Her breakthrough occurred when one of the quieter members of the group came up with an amazing idea that she would never have thought of. This insight helped her to see the benefit of collaborating with others.
Another driver described how she began to back off being the driver in order to see who else would contribute and take the lead. At first, the productivity of the group suffered but eventually, the “amiable” colleagues began to set up and lead some aspects of the project and took on some of the responsibilities.
What helped the change was not only learning how to appreciate the other styles but also tapping into a secondary style or relationship strength. One driver was able to use her strength of empathy to slow down and allow others to come forward. Another driver explained that thanks to her expressive side, she encouraged her colleagues to brainstorm and generate new ideas.
Our groups found that several members took a while to warm up to the group process and did not initially share their ideas. As one student remarked, being amiable helped her to relate well to the other members of the group. However, her amiable nature had a tendency to make her “invisible” and kept her from sharing her views. Once she became more comfortable with the group, she practiced being more of a “driver” and spoke up to share her views. She did this by using communication skills including a louder tone of voice, adopting a stronger posture, and using more assertive and expressive body language.
Another student shared that the benefit of communicating how important his relationships were to him made his colleagues feel valued. This, in turn, increased the level of trust and ultimately increased the group’s productivity.
Some of our amiable students shared that they wanted to be liked and please other people, which made it hard for them to share their views, especially when there was disagreement in the group. What helped was to feel the trust of the group and then find the common ground.
Working with Analytical Types
Like drivers, analytical people tend to be task-oriented. Unlike drivers who are quick to decide, those with the analytical style feel the need to have all of the information at hand before they can come to a decision.
One analytical student reported feeling impatient with the people-oriented amiable and expressive types because it meant that meetings took more time in order to gain the trust. She found this to be very stressful due to the limited amount of time for meetings. Yet once she learned more about how important the relationship dynamic was for her amiable and expressive colleagues, she began to appreciate their contribution.
On the flip side, some of the drivers felt frustrated with the need of their analytical colleagues for data and accuracy. Once the drivers understood that their analytical colleagues needed all of the facts in order to make a decision, it helped the drivers to slow down since the analytical collaborators were able to refine solutions and make them more viable.
As another driver summarized:
“To help myself adapt to other communication styles (especially analytical communicators), I plan to use my strength of empathy to remember to respect others’ communication needs. I will continue to remind myself that others need more time to think, and try to give myself things to do while they take that time. I will also remember that I often need the help of my analytical friends to help me sort through details, and that they generally are important parts of a team.”
Interestingly, many of our students identified the expressive style as their secondary trait. Because one of the goals of the class was to generate innovative solutions to the problems facing classical music, students felt free to share their ideas. Moreover, as we learned more about how to leverage communication skills, the expressive students felt increasingly empowered to speak up, while at the same time they learned the importance of honing those ideas to make them stronger.
Here are some of tips on how to work effectively with other communication styles:
- If you are the expressive type, see how you can focus on 1 or 2 ideas that will help to bring the matter to a solution.
- If you are the driver, allow your colleagues to brainstorm and use those driver skills to help shape a good outcome.
- If you are the analytic one, be mindful that your concern with accuracy may hamper the exchange of ideas and hurt the feelings of your colleagues.
- And if you are the amiable member of the group, open up to sharing your ideas, rather than focusing solely on how the team is feeling.
For more suggestions on how to adapt your communication style, click here.