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How your own user manual will make you a better team leader

Learning how best to work with others is a considerable challenge that often derails teams, projects and potentially organisations. Over the years, I have witnessed and experienced first-hand, teams of talented individuals struggle because of misunderstandings, poor communication, and conflict left unchallenged. Failure to communicate clearly with one's team causes many of the issues within today's workplaces.

Effective teamwork and collaboration are more critical now than ever before. Whether working remotely or not, knowledge workers often find themselves working in temporary teams, often at short notice to solve cross-functional issues or adaptive challenges.

Consultants, trainers and experts often talk about the importance of teamwork, but often how (to do it) is missing.

Writing and sharing a user manual, also called a "working with me manual" will improve communication, help set clear expectations, and share the best ways to interact and get the best work out of you. Anyone can do this, but it is most impactful when a team has a new leader. The newness of the group is when clear communication is of paramount importance, and yet often when it most commonly is lacking, and assumptions abound.

Let's remove the guesswork, which will aid with establishing trust and increasing the bonding of the people you work with, to each other, and the common goals. You'll see direct bottom-line benefits as the time to get up to speed is reduced, along with fewer opportunities for conflict and misunderstandings to arise.

The Ultimate Competitive Advantage.

To be successful, organisations need to have teams that work together, where individuals align their interests and put aside differences to focus individually and collectively on what's best for the organisation. Teamwork doesn't happen naturally amongst groups of people, especially driven high-performers.

"Rowing harder doesn't help if the boat is headed in the wrong direction."

- Kenichi Ohmae, Japanese Organisational Theorist

Working together applies to teams within organisations as well as groups of knowledge workers seeking to better collaborate on projects, perhaps to win new business, or establish a new service. Effective teamwork and effective collaboration are differentiators and can be powerful competitive advantages. It is, therefore, in everyone's best interest to learn new tools and techniques on how to motivate and get the best results from your team.

User Manuals.

When we buy a new car or a new electronic gadget for the home, it comes with a manual, so we know how to operate it. But when we work with a new person, a person objectively being more complicated than a car or electrical device, we don't receive anything.

The intention behind the user manual is for you, as the team leader, to provide a guide that clarifies your preferred interaction approaches, and the best way to work with you. This way people know what to do and what to expect without having to learn it the hard way. They get to immediately start as if they have known you for a month or two.

When Claire Hughes Johnson came to Stripe, she shared a document that she had brought with her from her time at Google. She shared "Working with Claire" with everyone who was working closely with her. Claire as the COO was in a new leadership role, people wanted to understand her, and so the document provided valuable insights that meant the team quickly got up to speed with how to work with her in ways that were most advantageous for the team and the whole organisation.

"I think that founders should write a guide to working with them."

- Claire Hughes Johnson, COO Stripe

No matter how good a judge of other people we think we are, everyone could use some help. The User Manual is a powerful tool that can help make us better.

We are all different and Teaming.

We all have different personalities, communication styles, expectations and needs. We've been shaped by our personal and often very different experiences. These differences are sources of strength and differentiation when it comes to solving complex problems. Yet, these differences also create challenging dynamics when bringing together driven high-performers and expecting them to work together effortlessly.

Amy Edmondson (Harvard University), the author of "The fearless organisation" on how to create Psychological Safety at work, introduces Teaming as "…teamwork on the fly." Teams are increasingly not going to be stable and bounded. Teaming recognises that not all work should be done within stable groups and increasingly people need to collaborate for short, intense periods, often from across different disciplinary or functional boundaries to get work done and solve problems.

A user manual can help speed up the process of bonding and building trust as people work together for the first time.

How to write your user manual.

There are no hard and fast rules, so as Bruce Lee said "Adapt what is useful, reject what is useless, and add what is specifically your own." from the list below. Things you might consider including in your user manual:

Photo by Caleb Oquendo from Pexels
  • What is my working style?

  • What are my values?

  • What are my strengths and weaknesses?

  • What do I want to be involved in?

  • What are my preferred communication modes?

  • When do I want to hear from you?

  • Some important do's and don'ts

  • What do people commonly misunderstand about me?

  • What brings out the best in me?

  • What brings out the worst in me?

  • What are my blind spots?

  • If tomorrow were your friend's first day working with me, what information about my personality would help them work with me more effectively?

You may find it helpful to ask some of your direct reports, stakeholders and trusted peers to help you to answer these questions. If you need inspiration, then here is Claire Hughes Johnson's "Working with Claire" guide.


Crossed wires and misunderstandings will always exist. But teams and those collaborating will have more success at avoiding conflict when we remove the guesswork and provide them with a common language, to understand each other better. Improved communication and teamwork will lead to tangible business benefits, as teams will more quickly reach their peak operating levels as we help them to understand how best to communicate and work with one and other.

If you want to discover more about effective teamwork, check out:


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