Managing personalities in a design team becomes easier when you understand why team members behave in certain ways under stress. When you can support them in changing their emotional state, they are no longer hostage to feeling fear and their rational brain can begin working again. So what environmental factors stress out a design team most?
Design teams are the front line creators of scalable solutions for products and services that meet needs of the customers they advocate for. The more ambiguous a project, the shorter the deadline, the more stakeholders involved, the more the design process is ignored, the more stress it puts on the entire design team.
Presented with high stakes, high stress situations, associated with working in fast paced and rapid growth technology companies, it’s hard to think clearly when our mind shuts down. It does this to send blood to our legs, not our brains, so we can run away from predators faster.
When I saw my boss walk across the bridge of 1 Infinite Loop in Cupertino, I wanted to run and hide in the restroom to throw up in the trash can. Why? Because I knew that if he was walking to my office, he had a project that was going to scare the crap out of me.
“Sally, will you fly to Milan tomorrow and give a talk I was scheduled to present at the Italian Developer Conference?” or “I’ve decided to send you to India to work on a mobile data capture project in rural healthcare for a couple of years, OK?”
Running away and hiding is a useful survival tool when you are running from a bear, but not useful when you need blood in your head, not your legs, to think straight. Unable to run away from bosses bearing scary projects, humans have developed new ways of covering up their fears.
Author Dr. Valerie Young classifies five competency based personality types we’ve developed to cope with the stress of modern business life. Specifically for those times we feel we are in over our heads and don’t belong at work.
This article describes the characteristics of each personality type, how damaging it can be, some tough love advice and 5 crucial tips for managing personalities in a design team. This will help you to help your design team members, reframe negative thoughts with positive ones so their rational brain can return and enable them to feel safe and that their presence is welcome and contribution needed.
Perfectionists set extremely high goals for themselves and will have an obsessive concern and aversion to failing to reach high performance standards. For example, achieving a score of 99 out of 100 would be deemed a failure and cause feelings of shame to a perfectionist personality type. A perfectionist will focus all their competency on “how” something is done.
Work stops being fulfilling. Workaholism leads to burnout. Anxiety leads to depression. Despite a positive outward appearance, inner self-confidence is very low.
Perfectionists! It’s time you learned to take mistakes in your stride. Mistakes are a natural part of the process and everyone makes them. Remember this perfectionists “To err is human, to forgive divine” Alexander Pope. Poem. An Essay on Criticism
For perfectionists, you can help them restore their self confidence by pushing them into action before they are fully prepared (there is no perfect time to start). So drop them in the deep end on a project right now!
Another way is to have them practice reframing negative thoughts into positive beliefs. For example “How can I ask for more headcount from the executive team, when I don’t feel worthy of taking up their time?” is negative.
Have them rephrase it to be positive “Of course the leadership team wants to speak with me. I have a great team, my brand is A++, and the CEO understands that the design organization is a source of competitive advantage and a direct creator of incremental revenue to the business bottom line.
Lastly, offer tools to help them become more self-accepting and kind to themself. Saying these affirmations out loud five times, will generate self acceptance that they are good enough just as they are. Each affirmation starts with “I”
Superheroes measure their competence by how many roles they can excel at, and juggle at the same time. If they fall short as a manager, a friend, a sibling, a parent, or any single role, they will feel tremendous shame. Superheroes believe they should be able to handle all of it and everyone perfectly. Not sure if this applies to you or someone in your design team?
Feeling powerless. Being oversensitive to criticism. Mental health problems
Your life is going to get worse if you continue juggling everything and everyone. Being a superhero is exhausting for you and your coworkers. Your career will stall if you don’t stop being reactive to everyone and everything that comes your way.
For superheroes, help them learn to ease off the gas and reconsider how much work is truly reasonable. Let them discover where they can take the pressure off themself by removing meetings from their calendar. This empowers them to build self respect for their own time and talents and become more discerning about who receives their attention now they value their own time and influence.
Next, ask the Superhero about their plans for growth. What would help them to develop their sense of self-validation? Is there a training program, a wellness class or a coach that could help draw this inner confidence out of them?
Lastly, you could share these phrases with them. Said 5 times out-loud can have a profoundly calming effect on someone who is too busy to slow down and look within.
A Natural Genius cares about how easily and quickly their accomplishments happen. If they don’t complete their work efficiently they feel shame and alarm bells sound. They will judge themselves based on speed and getting things right on the first try.
Being highly self-critical. Exhibiting avoidance behavior and feeling guilty about situations and projects you ignore. You have difficulty forming lasting relationships. You feel alarmed you can’t keep up with the expectations for your job easily and quickly
No one can be expected to have all the answers. Confident people find the best solutions knowing they alone will never have all the answers. This is particularly true in product development where the world is on a “seemingly inexorable trend toward higher levels of complexity, specialization and sociopolitical control (Joseph Tainter),”
Don’t let them beat themselves up when they don’t reach their self imposed and unattainable standards for speed and efficiency. Show them the behaviors they need to change and help them find a mentor or coach, who will let them develop the skills they’ve avoided, because they decided they “weren’t good enough.”
Lastly, you could share these phrases with them. Said 5 times out-loud the can have a profoundly calming effect on someone who is moving too fast to slow down and hear their inner leader calling to them.
For a soloist to feel competent in their achievements, it has to be them who completes the work. Soloists never ask for help – this would be a sign of failure.
Loneliness and isolation. Hard to connect with others. Inability to express your feelings
You are not a phony if you don’t have all the answers, you’re human. Would you think less of someone if they asked you for your advice? No! You’d be delighted to help them.
Check to see if they really are soloists rather than simply shy or uncertain in their communication and collaboration skills. If they are soloists, or lone rangers, then give them the freedom to roam outside the uniformity your team operates inside. Put a soloist in charge of something and adopt a hands off management approach, but do have a scheduled check in to ensure they fulfill their responsibilities.
Lastly, you could share these phrases with them. Said 5 times out loud it can have a positive impact on a soloist’s outlook. Each affirmation starts with “I”
Experts expect themselves to know everything and any lack of knowledge is deemed to be a failure. They feel that if people found out how little they really knew, they would be exposed as a fraud.
Taken too far, continually seeking out more information can be a form of procrastination where you let the unimportant minutiae eat up your time instead of focusing on producing results.
Don’t be a hoarder! Learn to share what you already know through teaching, coaching, or mentoring others. Sharing your knowledge with others is the best way to retain information and is directly correlated with mastery of skills.
Trust that you are enough, and you don’t need more training, certificates, or schooling. Begin practicing just-in-time learning by acquiring new skills when you need them, rather than hoarding knowledge.
Managing someone who knows a lot more about their work than you do can be a humbling experience. So don’t attempt to compete with them, rather get to know them as individuals and focus on cultivating a relationship with them. Help them see the context inside their contribution lives, and don’t try to compete with an expert on the details.
Focus yourself on cultivating your own executive presence through a relaxed body stance, a calm voice, clear sentences that are to the point and building a robust network of allies across departments. Accept that you may no longer be the specialist, but the generalist who leads other specialists.
Lastly, you could share these phrases with them. Said 5 times out loud it can have a positive impact on an experts outlook.
Padma is a product designer working in the Bay Area creating software for robots. She is a wife, mother, immigrant and superhero who measures her competency by how many roles she can excel at, and juggle at the same time.
Compared to her husband who is a high flier in product management, Padma feels ashamed that she hasn’t attained management status by this time in her life.
Padma reached out to me for leadership coaching when her efforts to get promoted had failed and she didn’t understand why. We worked together every other week for six months. Here’s what happened.
“I wanted to move up the ladder and become a design manager. Sally helped me look at my strengths, how I responded to the people and the self criticism I put on myself. She let me discover I had labeled lots of things as negative in my head, and these sentiments needed reframing positively.
Sally is a design expert and executive who has been there and done that and I trust her. She created a safe space for me where I could share my innermost thoughts without the fear of being judged.
As a result of coaching with Sally, several magical changes happened. I was promoted to design manager. My communication improved and relationships at home and work got better. I become calmer and less stressed out.
Most importantly, by learning my unique strengths and how to use them more effectively allowed me to transform and accept who I have become today.”
If you’re a superhero like Padma and being called to step into the next level of leadership, but haven’t managed to make that happen on your own yet, I’m here to help you with my one on one coaching program for design leaders.
Acquiring the skill to reframe negative thoughts into positive ones will transform your ability to activate your innate leadership skills and manifest what you truly want. With that clarity you will step into your higher purpose as the design leader companies will compete over to have lead their teams. Ready to get started? Book a complimentary coaching session with me today.
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