Managing Developers: How to Understand Work Styles & Cater to Individual Needs
There’s an image a lot of people have of a software developer: A nerdy, introverted computer geek who clatters away at a keyboard in a dark room–most likely a basement.
Reality’s a bit different.
Building software is, as you probably know, a team sport. And while some engineers fit the nerd-in-a-basement stereotype (to a tee), others don’t.
Good managers understand that there are many different types of software developers and they have different needs and motivations.
Any larger commercial coding project is more likely to have a team of engineers working on it, which means in addition to their coding skills, developers need to be able to work together with other members of a team. And as a manager, you need to be able to facilitate teamwork that will have all developers doing their best work to get the job done.
Entire books have been written on effectively managing teams to help them work together better. One of the keys is identifying different work styles, and then using that knowledge to help leverage everyone’s strengths to make the overall team stronger and more efficient.
Business Chemistry: Four Work Styles
A popular new way of looking at different work styles is Deloitte’s Business Chemistry framework, which was developed based on data by scientists and neuro-anthropologists.
Business chemistry divides workers into four groups that can help their colleagues and managers understand their motivations and strengths. The fact that this framework is data-driven should appeal to engineers and their managers, and the four groups make up a simple, effective framework for classifying different work styles.
Here are the characteristics of the four work styles in the Business Chemistry framework.
Like their name implies, pioneers are trailblazers — spontaneous, adaptable, and creative. They’re vocal in a brainstorming session and bring energy and a collaborative spirit to a team.
When it comes to their work style, pioneers tend to jump in with both feet. Rather than overthink decisions, they trust their gut and take risks, always with the confidence that they can change course later if a plan doesn’t work out.
Guardians are detail-oriented, pragmatic, and practical. Basically the opposite of pioneers, they like to carefully deliberate and fully flesh out a plan before taking action.
At work, guardians like to stay in their comfort zones and often avoid risks. Before taking a new direction, they will meticulously and comprehensively research it, and once they make a decision, it’s made — there’s no allowance for changing course on the fly later down the road.
Drivers also do what their name implies: They drive projects forward. They’re great at the technical side of things and tend to excel in math, science, logic, and other similar fields.
At work, drivers tend to be the people who would rather work alone. They trust their own judgment and research; they’re confident and competitive. They’re incredibly goal-oriented and may have a tendency to let workplace relationships fall to the wayside as they strive to achieve their goals. This tunnel vision toward getting the job done can be interpreted as brusqueness or harshness toward others on the team.
Every team needs someone to keep the peace, and integrators happily fulfill that role. They are empathetic and easily tolerate ambiguity, unlike the other personality types.
When it comes to their work style, integrators easily see the short-term goals and the big picture. They value the opinions of others and like to get everyone’s input before moving forward, which may be seen as indecisiveness by some. Integrators enjoy lending a hand, and while they aren’t the biggest fans of taking risks, they’ll follow the consensus of the team in whatever direction it’s headed.
The Value of Understanding the Different Work Styles
The personalities and work styles of your team members affect everything in your workplace, from the team’s efficiency to the quality of its work to the vibe in the office. By understanding the different work styles, their needs and motivations, and how they work together, you can promote within your team:
- Better communication, both between different team members and between team members and managers.
- Better adaptability to each other’s strengths and weaknesses.
- Delegation of work that plays into each team member’s strengths.
- Better productivity leading to a higher quality of work overall.
- Fewer conflicts between team members, and between team members and managers.
- A more positive environment in the workplace.
Using Work Styles To Manage Developers
So what does all of this have to do with your developer team?
Understanding the work styles of different engineers on your team can help you communicate with and manage them in a way that fits their work style.
To find out the work styles of everyone on your team, you can have them take a Business Chemistry test. But that’s not strictly necessary — you can also just observe them as they work and make your best guess about what work style they might fall under (and know that people don’t always fit perfectly into one of the four groups; many people are a combination of more than one work style).
Watch how your engineers communicate. See whether they complete projects early or wait until just before the deadline. See how much they participate in a brainstorming session. See if they tend to go with the flow, or take a strong stand for their own ideas. These are all opportunities to look for work style traits that can help you determine which of the four groups they might fit into.
What Each Work Style Needs from a Manager
Each work style comes with different motivations and needs. As a manager, understanding those can help you work effectively with every type of person on your team, both in groups and one-on-ones.
When working with Pioneers:
- Be flexible instead of sticking with a particular process.
- Avoid having too many rules and limitations.
- Try not to use the word “no”.
- Collaborate, but let them take charge when they’re passionate about an idea.
- Ask open-ended questions and let Pioneers lead the way to finding an answer or solution.
When working with Guardians:
- Use logic and facts.
- Share as many details as possible, and still be prepared for even more detailed questions.
- Be patient while they do their research and plan carefully before taking action.
- Schedule follow-up meetings to give them time to process information before moving forward.
- Stay calm and don’t get emotional when discussing problems or giving feedback.
When working with Drivers:
- Avoid small talk and get straight to the point.
- Be decisive.
- Share facts and details, but be brief about it.
- Be prepared for a debate.
- Don’t let their directness or competitiveness undermine your authority, but put it to good use by letting them lead on finding solutions to problems.
When working with Integrators:
- Lead with the human element of a problem or project, rather than facts or figures.
- Take an interest in them as a person and find common ground.
- Avoid being aggressive or confrontational.
- Ask questions to get their point of view.
- End conversations and meetings on a positive note.
How Work Styles Help You Manage Teams
When you put together a team to work on a project, understanding individuals’ work styles can help. For example, having two Drivers work together on a project can be a recipe for disaster, as they’re likely to compete with one another and fight for control of the project. Pairing two Integrators can be just as disastrous, as their natural inclination to go with the flow and please others on the team might get in the way of their team making decisions or moving a project forward.
The ideal team will have an even mix of Pioneers, Guardians, Drivers, and Integrators. When putting engineers together into groups, you should strive to have each of the work styles represented.
Understanding each individual’s work styles also allows you to leverage each person’s strengths. When you understand each developer’s motivations, challenges, and strengths, you can match the right person to the right job.
Whether you subscribe to the Business Chemistry framework or another framework that identifies work styles (there are tons), learning more about how your team members work can only benefit the team as a whole. As a manager, it’s your job to set a clear vision for the team, and knowing how to communicate with, motivate, and work with each of your developers will pave the road toward success.