Want to get the best out of me? Then read my User Manual :-)

By Laura Hewitt, senior coach, &us

In the &us coaching team we’ve just kicked off one of our biggest projects to date: simultaneously training 6 different teams from a huge global pharma company on how to work and collaborate with agility in order to crack some of their biggest challenges. Naturally, me and the team are buzzing to get started but given these crazy, new, abnormal (etc etc) times we decided to approach this project differently, and create a User Manual.

The User Manual is a genius tool we’ve only just discovered, which helps teams foster deeper and more trusting relationships, and have open conversations. It’s like a test drive, before the real project kicks in! Far too often the temptation is to dive straight into a project, all guns blazing, but the User Manual approach is about taking some space to breathe, and learn.

It couldn’t be simpler. All you do is craft a set of questions that set out the conditions within which an individual needs to be their best. The idea was first generated by Ivar Kroghrud, co-founder, former CEO, and lead strategist at the software company QuestBack. In carving out his leadership style he developed this one-page User Manual so people could understand how to work with him. The manual includes information like “I appreciate straight, direct communication. Say what you are thinking, and say it without wrapping your message.” In my experience, the best leaders are those who can admit they’re human, and flawed.

With my team, creating the User Manual was easy and quick. We completed the questions in half an hour and set up our next Zoom to do a walk and talk (literally, outside) whilst sharing answers. The fresh air somehow inspired more energising and open discussions! We followed 3 easy steps:

Step 1 — Each person gets a set of questions to fill in privately

Step 2 — Collated answers are shared as a group

Step 3 — Finally, take time to talk them through as group to explore the connections and differences in answers with an open mind and heart. We had one of our own coaches facilitate the discussion in a really inclusive way. It’s cheesy, but it worked!

The 9 killer questions we used in our manual to spark our conversation as a team were:

  1. When I am most energised at work..?
  2. People say that I am great at…?
  3. People say that I need to work on…?
  4. When I need help I want help to look like…?
  5. When there’s a crisis at work I respond by…?
  6. I like to receive feedback in this way….?
  7. I like to give feedback this way…?
  8. Something people might misunderstand about me…?
  9. The best way to convince me to do something is…?

I may be prone to hyperbole but seriously, now more than ever, you have to do this. Sharing our answers to the questions quickly opened up a deeper level of conversation around the different things we all struggle with, without feeling intimidating or cringingly feedback-y. We had moments of genuine surprise laughter and eureka moments, as each person described how their own needs could play out in different situations. Importantly, we got to challenge our own assumptions about each other (one person’s quiet spell means “I am focussing — don’t talk now!” whereas another might signal “I am in panic mode — help!”) And we heard things we might have seen/noticed in our colleague but didn’t understand without their explanation.

This week is Mental Health Awareness Week, and the hashtag is doing the rounds on social platforms. But mental health is more than a hashtag. Caring for the psychological wellbeing of others is an investment, and sometimes you need to have difficult conversations. Occasionally you have to analyse your own thoughts and behaviours. But if you really mean it don’t just say it, do it.

If you need help creating your own User Manual for big projects, give us a call or drop me a line on laura@andus.co — at &us we’re used to getting even the messiest teams working better and faster!

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