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What’s your working style?

Independent, cooperative or proximity strategy?

Office culture has undergone some major changes in the past two decades. Gone are cubicles, rigid 9-to-5 schedules and “climbing the ladder” of corporate structures. Open office layouts, flex hours, working from home and diplomatic corporate structures are the new normal in the corporate world. But there is one part of office culture that hasn’t changed: the need to build cohesive teams made up of various working styles.

Superstars come in all different types of work styles. They can be solitary creative geniuses, strong team leaders or adaptable and flexible. When you’re building a team, first determine your own business style and familiarize yourself with the three main types.

What is your working style?

Your working style is the way that you go about your day-to-day tasks on the job. Everyone has his or her own working style – or strategy – for optimally performing while at work. Are you more efficient when you’re working independently and are responsible for your own schedule and tasks? Or do you like having a team to give feedback on your ideas, provide support and help you stay on track? Do you routinely bring emotion into the workplace or do you focus on the facts? When it comes to problem-solving, do you pay close attention to details or are you more of a big picture type?

There is no right or wrong working style. The key is to know your own style so you can be more aware of how you’re communicating with others. Then you can hire the right team whose work style types complement each other so that productivity soars.

Work style types

1. Independent

Some people are not happy unless they’re working solo – we’ll classify this as an independent working style. They have great difficulty working closely with other people and can’t work well under a great deal of supervision. They have to run their own show. They like to follow their instinct and see where it takes them.

Visionary and entrepreneurial types often have an independent working style. This type is also often found in creative or scientific fields. Imagine the writer working late on a novel or the engineer’s intense focus on solving a problem. Independent working styles are efficient, disciplined and productive.

2. Cooperative

Others function best as part of a group. We call their professional working style cooperative. They want to share responsibility for any task they take on. They enjoy bouncing feedback off others and working together on projects.

Cooperative workers are diplomatic and are typically excellent communicators. They are often found in relationship-oriented roles like human resources and in leadership roles. Account executives, HR directors and project managers are often known to have cooperative work style types. They’re organized, collaborative and usually know the secret to strategic learning.

3. Proximity

Still others have a proximity working style, which is somewhere in between. They prefer to work with other people while maintaining sole responsibility for a task. They are in charge but not alone. They get to have a social connection with their coworkers while pursuing their own projects.

Proximity work style types are found in all aspects of business. They are versatile and adaptable and able to take on many different roles. They’ll connect the independent and cooperative types, helping to build a team that works.

4. Supportive

Do you have employees who are expressive and emotionally aware? Individuals whose main goal is to form deep connections with their colleagues and your clients have a supportive working style. Team members with this style are adept at facilitating team interactions and will be able to tell you if something is amiss with one of their coworkers. They thrive on collaboration rather than competition and are happiest celebrating successes with other members of the team.

5. Big picture

For every detail-lover on your team, there must be a leader who thrives in their big picture working style. If you’re an entrepreneur, it’s likely you have this type of style. Big picture types see and embrace the company’s vision. They drive change and are able to integrate competing ideas and priorities into one innovative strategy. Having some big picture types on your team will help you anticipate future obstacles and turn them into opportunities.

You can maximize different work style types

Everyone wants to build a culture of positive change, high productivity and cooperative teamwork for their business. In order to do this, you must determine how to get the most out of the people you supervise. There are many factors ­– including working style – that motivate employees and affect everything from how they work with others to their ability to stick to deadlines.

Have you ever heard of the Peter Principle? It’s the idea that all people are promoted to the level of their incompetence. One reason this happens is that employers are often insensitive to their employees’ work style types. If you’re asking someone to do something that goes against their working style, they most likely won’t excel at it. Recruiting and promoting successfully begins with the manager finding, recognizing and rewarding the different work style types appropriately.

How to reward the independent type

Sometimes you’ll find an employee who is brilliant but always seems to be going against the grain. He always has to do things his way. Now he just might not be cut out to be an employee – maybe he has an independent working style and is more suited to become an entrepreneur. He is the kind of person who has to run his own business, and sooner or later he probably will if you do not provide an avenue of expression. Big picture working style employees also tend to fall into this category.

If you have a valuable employee like this who tends toward the independent or big picture work style types, find a way to maximize his or her talents and provide as much autonomy as possible. If you put him on a group project, he’ll be unhappy at work and drive everyone crazy. But if you give the employee with this working style as much independence as possible, he can prove himself to be invaluable. That’s what the new concepts of entrepreneurship are all about.

How to get the most from cooperative work style types

People who work best in a cooperative setting and have supportive styles thrive on a large amount of feedback and human interaction. Would you reward their good work by putting them in charge of some new autonomous venture? Not if you want to make use of the best talents of this working style. That doesn’t mean you have to keep a person at the same level, but it does mean you should give promotions and new work experiences that utilize the person’s best talents. Just as everyone has their own leadership style, an employee’s true working style must be recognized and worked with accordingly.

Likewise, many people with proximity work style types want to be part of a team but need to do their own work alone. In any structure, there are jobs that nurture all the professional working style variations. The key is to answer the question “What is your working style?” and then have the acuity to know how your employees work best when assigning tasks you want them to thrive in.

Working style and communication

Individuals with different work style types naturally communicate differently, which often leads to a disconnect in the workplace. A supportive style employee is adept at using the power of deep listening while big picture types tend to talk over others in their excitement to discuss high-level concepts. If you find that communication is suffering within your team, consider having your employees take a DISC assessment that will help them identify how they communicate and how their style can conflict with others.

Putting it all into action

How can you honor your team’s individual work style types? Here’s an exercise to do today. After reading this article, practice eliciting your team’s metaprograms. Metaprograms are a person’s inner workings that affect the ways they process their experiences – and affect their working style. While “what is your working style?” is a common interview question, it will be much more effective to ask:

  • What do you want in a relationship (or house or car or career)?
  • How do you know when you have been successful at something?
  • What is the relationship between what you are doing this month and what you did last month?
  • How often does someone have to demonstrate something to you before you are convinced it’s true?
  • Tell me about a favorite work experience and why it was important to you.


Does the person pay attention to you while you are asking these questions? Are they interested in your response or are they occupied elsewhere? Do they respond with lots of answers about themselves, or do they discuss how they appreciate a teamwork environment?

These are only a few of the questions you can ask to successfully elicit the metaprograms we’ve discussed and more accurately pinpoint your team members’ working styles. If you don’t get the information you need, rephrase the question until you do. This will help you to determine work style types and figure out if this new candidate will be right for your business.

Those with different work style types all have a part to play in the grand scheme of a successful business. If you can learn to harness the power of the different types of work styles, you’ll be one step ahead of your competition when it comes to improving efficiency and creating a successful team.

Tony Robbins

Tony Robbins is an entrepreneur, bestselling author, philanthropist and the nation’s #1 Life and Business Strategist. Author of five internationally bestselling books, including the recent New York Times #1 best-seller UNSHAKEABLE, Mr. Robbins has empowered more than 50 million people from 100 countries through his audio, video and life training programs. He created the #1 personal and professional development program of all time, and more than 4 million people have attended his live seminars.

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