The Secret to Building Great Teams: Create User Manuals

Learning how best to work with others is a huge challenge that often derails and stalls organizations. Over many years I’ve seen tremendously talented and productive teams struggle because of subtle misunderstandings, miscommunications and unspoken conflicts. Most business failures stem from these issues.

Leaders often talk about the importance of teamwork, but they rarely say exactly how to do it.

Here’s one game-changing step your organization and/or team can take: implementing a “How to Work With Me” manual and process. It’s a detailed instruction road map on individual preferences for areas such as communication, trust and pet peeves. It sets clear expectations on how to interact without trying to guess or infer what the other person means. It allows people to be authentic without being misunderstood.

It also instantly increases trust and team chemistry. You’ll see direct bottom-line benefits such as increased performance and fewer conflicts and miscommunications.

Organizations such as Stripe, Dropbox, Norselab and BetterCloud and teams at Facebook, Amazon and Google are already using this approach and seeing an immense impact.

Guessing What People Want Is Not Communication

No matter how well we think we read people, everyone could use some help. None of us are perfect at it. But we can be much, much better.

We all have different personalities, communication styles, expectations and needs. We’ve been shaped by different experiences and histories. That creates challenging dynamics when you bring together leaders, managers and employees and expect them to accomplish difficult goals.

Organizations throw people together in teams and expect them to “magically” figure out each other’s personalities, preferences and hot buttons through guesswork, mind reading and trial-and-error. It would be similar to having to assemble IKEA’s most complicated piece of furniture without the instructions.

People often end up trying to analyze and predict what others like, hate, need and want, instead of asking them directly. This results in a rollercoaster ride of confusion, miscommunication, misunderstandings, unmet expectations, anxiety, fear and disappointment.

Despite all our best intentions, this process and environment is primed for broken trust, poor relationships and underperforming teams.

Here are a few data points on communication costs to make it more real:

  • 86% of employees and executives in a survey cited lack of collaboration or ineffective communication for workplace failures.
  • Miscommunication reportedly costs a company of 100 employees an average of $420,000 per year. Smaller businesses are not immune; poor communication results in a major costs for a business of five employees.
  • Teams of five employees (in conflict) waste between 200 to 275 hours per month on misunderstandings, poor communication, lack of teamwork and emotional turmoil. (This data is based on two years of my team-conflict engagements.)
  • Poor managers are a factor in at least three-fourths of the reasons for voluntary turnover (and the top reasons are lack of feedback and appreciation, poor communication and unclear expectations).
  • Employees are disengaged and haunting office hallways like walking-dead zombies instead of energized, high-performers that make a real impact.

These are staggering and massive costs that organizations face every year. Yet the time, effort and money to solve them are minimal. Let me explain.

How much easier it would be to work with others if everyone received specific, detailed instructions on EXACTLY how to best communicate and collaborate, bring up touchy subjects, navigate conflicts and support them?

The premise of a “How to Work with Me” manual is to learn to interact with people in the way that works best for them, not how you think it should work or how we see the world. We have to adapt and meet people where they are. Otherwise it’s like trying to fit a square peg in a round hole.

For example, you could approach difficult conversations with two employees in the exact same way and get two completely different outcomes. Now think about how much chaos it would cause if everyone acted in a similar way across an organization of hundreds or thousands.

The ‘How to Work with Me’ Manual and Process

The manual is a short teaching guide or “cheat sheet” that provides insights and clarity into personality types, preferences, experiences, communication and collaboration styles, needs, expectations, quirks, pet peeves, values, blind spots and areas of growth.

Who Is It For?

  • Any size of organization in any industry (SMBs, startups, educational institutions, government, financial, nonprofits, legal, etc.).
  • Teams and working groups can use it, even without organizational buy-in.
  • Virtual, remote and global teams really benefit from this.

How Would You Roll It Out Organization-Wide?

  • Get every manager and employee to fill it out.
  • Have each team meet one-on-one to discuss the document and ask questions to gain additional clarity and understanding. Managers would participate in this.
  • Have each manager get their team to discuss it to share insights and observations.

‘How to Work with Me’ Manual Questions (Pick 10)

  1. How can people earn an extra gold star with you?
  2. What qualities do you particularly value in people who work with you?
  3. What are some things that people might misunderstand about you? What misunderstandings have you had in the past? Are there any personality types that you may have more challenges working with?
  4. What does being good or very successful at your job mean to you? What are the top three key values you associate with this?
  5. What are your hot buttons/pet peeves?
  6. What is your communication and collaboration style? (Describe it.) How would others you’ve worked with in the past describe it? What feedback have you received on it? Are there communication and collaboration areas that you are trying to improve upon?
  7. What’s your view on feedback? How do you like to give feedback? How do you prefer someone to give you feedback?
  8. What specifically can someone do to bring out the best in you? For example, are there any actions to take or words to use?
  9. When it comes to owning mistakes/errors, what’s the best way for people to come forward and approach you? What’s the best way to apologize to you?
  10. What do you need when you are too stressed to ask for it? What do you need when you are upset?
  11. What’s the best way to bring up a subject where we may disagree?
  12. What is/are your blind spot(s)? What are you working on? What can others do to help you with this?
  13. How can someone build trust with you quickly? What values do you associate with trustworthiness? What creates distrust with you? How can someone who breaks trust with you gain it back?


Wouldn’t it be great if managers and employees could understand each other’s “hot buttons” and preferences from day one instead of learning the hard way as they work together over months and years?

The “How to Work With Me” manual and process provides that. It allows managers and team members to connect on a much deeper level. It creates more predictability, reduces emotional turmoil and builds great teamwork. It helps managers maximize team performance by not letting communication issues get in the way.

Miscommunications and misunderstandings will still happen. But team members will have these conversations much sooner after an issue arises, reducing painful conflicts.