Think of the last big project you worked on. Was it your idea? Did you plan every step of the project? Did you think through it and raise possible red flags? Or did you handle the support work and get your team to the finish line?
What Is a Working Style?
Your answer reveals your working style. Whether it’s logical, detail-oriented, idea-oriented or supportive, the way you approach tasks and projects can determine where you flourish, in both your present job and long-term career.
Identifying your work style is “absolutely critical” for career growth, said Peter Griscom, CEO of P2P trading app Tradefluence. Griscom’s idea-oriented working style has helped him decide which roles to take and what kind of companies to work for throughout his career. “If I see a culture that’s primarily driven by, say, data over everything, then I know that’s not a place I’m going to excel,” he said.
Griscom also knows that he’s naturally more of a motivator than he is a supportive person. “I try to be that empathetic person because by nature, I’m not warm and cuddly,” he said. “You have to know your working style, because it shows you where your shortcomings will be.”
What Is a Working Style?
Your working style is the primary way you approach tasks, solve problems and work with others.
If you’re primarily ideas-oriented, for example, your eye is on the big picture — you’re a visionary, and you leave the details to others. If you’re logical, you’re able to discern whether a plan or project will work, and if not, what it needs to work. If you’re details-oriented, you’ll draft the plan of attack for a project and make sure deadlines are met. If you’re supportive, you’ll lend a hand to others on your team to make sure all tasks are completed on time.
5 Benefits of Knowing Your Working Style
- You’ll have a better understanding of your strengths and weaknesses.
- You’ll be happier and more productive at work.
- You’ll be able to collaborate more effectively.
- You can use the knowledge to make informed decisions about future jobs.
- Managers will have insight to choose teams that complement their styles.
Danielle Boris, CEO and founder of New York-based HR tech company ConnectFor, said when you know your working style, you’re able to find environments where you’re able to thrive.
“You can ask the right questions at interviews, you can figure out why you’re happy or unhappy at work,” Boris said. “You have better conversations with your managers, your colleagues and your teams.”
“When people do work that doesn’t match their work style, they end up feeling very much fish out of water,” Boris added. “And that influences everyone else’s work too. The more we know about how we work, the better we can work together.”
Rinat Hadas, the chief of staff at JumpCrew, which provides outsourced sales and marketing personnel, knows that her boss is idea-oriented. “He might not care about all the details when we’re executing on something,” she said. “Understanding that helps me support him more.”
That knowledge makes their working relationship run smoother. Along similar lines, knowing your working style can make your days more productive and happier, and smooth out relationships with colleagues.
The 4 Types of Working Styles
They might have slightly different names or subcategories, but the four widely recognized working styles are logical, idea-oriented, detail-oriented and supportive. Chances are good you’ll recognize yourself in more than one category, as most people employ two, three or even all four styles throughout their careers.
“As your roles change, different pieces of your personality have to stand out more,” Hadas said. That’s an apt way to think about working styles. Knowing what you’re best at is like knowing whether you’re an introvert or extrovert. That knowledge is power that helps you direct your career.
People with this work style love data. They can quickly and effectively analyze problems and figure out solutions to them. They are determined and focused.
Hadas, for example, drives JumpCrew’s strategic and operational priorities, and to do so requires a logical mind and approach. While she describes her working style as primarily logical, she is also detail-oriented and supportive, and minimally idea-oriented.
“I’ve always known that being idea-oriented is my weakness,” Hadas said. “I gravitate toward people who are stronger there, because it’s a good complement to me.”
Even so, Hadas said she’s becoming more creative as her responsibilities at JumpCrew shift. For example, she is active in leading the team charged with driving culture across the organization. The team is eager to be involved in a variety of events, from social gatherings to networking to team building and philanthropy, “and in ways that engage not just our in-person teammates but also our remote team,” she said.
“Thinking of new creative ways to energize our team to meet all of the objectives definitely has taken me out of my comfort zone of being more logically driven, but it’s been necessary to drive our culture, and has been fun for me to be more creative.”
Idea-oriented professionals have a holistic vision for their companies. They are often seen as leaders and pioneers, people who focus on the big picture. They take risks and thrive on them, and can inspire others to believe in their visions. They are optimistic and excel at creating opportunities out of obstacles.
Erik Sussman considers himself ideas-oriented (and supportive too, which is explained later). “It’s a good fit for my career because as an entrepreneur, you have to have a vision that excites you and inspires others’ creativity,” said Sussman, CEO and founder of Miami, Florida-based fintech company Institute of Financial Wellness. Over his career, Sussman has recognized that he’s good at sales, but not at the detail work required for operations or building systems to process sales.
Sussman and his team are working to grow the Institute of Financial Wellness, and it requires a blend of different working styles. Sussman, whose role is sales and marketing, pitches the Institute’s products and services to financial institutions.
“In order to ‘sell our product,’ a ton of organization and data needs to be done so I can deliver on that promise,” he said. “Without my team members, IFW could never deliver.”
While Sussman said he has excellent communication skills, he admits he doesn’t excel at the software and technology to advertise and publicize IFW via social media. “We have team members who excel at this and without them our content would never be produced and distributed,” he said.
These individuals are thinkers. Their work personality is strategic and sequential. They study and comprehend the problem and all its intricacies to provide the best step forward.
Aaron Warrick identifies as primarily logical and detail-oriented, which he said stems from his background as a computer programmer and control-system engineer. “I’m very analytical and sequential in my thinking,” said Warrick, co-founder and CEO of Reju, an inspirational living and self-care mobile app. The dual workstyle has helped him in his entrepreneurial endeavors. “You have to look at all the possibilities, and when problems arise, find effective solutions to them,” Warrick said.
Warrick’s team is balanced when it comes to work styles, and that balance has been useful as Reju rolls out version two of its app. One team member’s supportive workstyle “gets everyone excited and hyped about the new direction and gets them to feel seen and heard on these projects that may be daunting,” Warrick said. “They’re like glue for the team.”
Reju’s co-founder, Dante Wade, is also detail-oriented. “He can say ‘hold on, we didn’t consider this’ or ‘let’s take a step back,’” Warrick said. Warrick himself is using his technologist knowledge to double-check the code and make sure the product functions well.
Professionals with supportive work styles tend to be more emotional and expressive — they’re quick to lend a hand when needed. They put a premium on relationships. Coworkers view supportive teammates as the tie that binds the group together.
Joe Vu describes his working style as supportive. “I have always been someone who is action oriented, and collaboration is a philosophy that I subscribe to,” said Vu, digital marketing manager at Fairport, New York-based fintech company QuickFi. His skill set, communication style and ability to process a problem into a solution supports the goals of many people at QuickFi, he said.
“Having a supportive working style helps you understand both the challenges that are faced by all teams in an organization, and also the accountability and goals that translate to tangible success.”
One recent example: A program manager set a goal of increasing outreach to QuickFi’s U.S.-based dealer network of 80-plus locations. Vu helped the team and the manager reach that goal by listening to challenges, interpreting the process into a solution, and enacting a marketing plan that had both creative and technical elements.
“Having a supportive working style helps you understand both the challenges that are faced by all teams in an organization, and also the accountability and goals that translate to tangible success,” Vu said. “Understanding these things helps you accomplish larger organizational goals, which puts you in a position to succeed.”
Leslie Mizerak, a coach with Boston-based edtech company NimblyWise, moves easily between idea-oriented and supportive. “I tend to see the possibilities in people and projects and find a load of energy from such,” she said. That’s why she loves coaching: “It’s so exciting when I see the ‘idea’ light bulb flicker on in a coachee.”
Her supportive side kicks in when it’s time for collaboration and building community, she said.
How to Find Your Working Style
Mizerak knows that idea-oriented is her style because work centered around ideas gives her the greatest amount of joy. By contrast, her opposite style — detail-oriented — “gives me pause and I really have to be in a different mindset to get deep into details,” she said. “I can do it, but it takes different levels of energy to do so.”
Identifying your working style requires you to pay attention to the way you work and ask lots of questions, of yourself and others, about how you approach problems. As you journey toward discovering your working style, remember that you might identify as one style and probably two.
How to Find Your Working Style
- Log daily and weekly activities, making note of what makes you happy, what causes dread, and what tasks make you most — and least — productive.
- Reflect on your career — both the types of companies you’ve worked at and the positions you’ve held.
- Take an assessment designed to help you identify personality traits.
- Think about the skills you use or the passions that arise when you volunteer.
- Ask your manager or a mentor to help you identify strengths and weaknesses.
- Pay attention to feedback. Praise can help you identify your strong points and thus your working style.
Notice What Brings You Joy
To some extent, your natural abilities shape your working style, and people are happier doing what comes naturally than operating as square pegs in round holes. Engineers, for instance, are more likely to be detail-oriented. It just makes sense that doing what comes naturally will make you happiest at your job.
With that in mind, ask yourself these questions: Which parts of your workday got you enthusiastic and excited? Was it a specific project or the tasks within that project? Take notes at the end of each work day and within time, you’ll likely detect a pattern.
Pay Attention to How You Handle Projects
Was it your idea? Did you come to meetings with color-tabbed binders and spreadsheets? Did you document and print out every last bit of material for the meeting? “How you handle big projects in your work and daily life can give you major clues as to your working style,” said Amanda Marcotte, vice president of marketing and growth at productivity app Kiwi for Gmail. If you sweat every detail, you’re in the logical and detail-oriented spheres. Winging it? You’re most likely an ideas person.
Take a Personality Test
Hadas of JumpCrew took a personality assessment when she was employed at a global consulting firm. That assessment helped her identify her “business chemistry,” which closely aligned with the four working styles. The test helped her understand the key traits of each style.
Tests such as the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, DISC (it stands for dominance, Influence, steadiness and conscientiousness) and Culture Index won’t specifically point out your working style. They will, however, point out your personality and your strengths, which will help you discern your style. A “steadiness and conscientiousness” result on DISC, for instance, would indicate that you’re supportive, while “dominance” would indicate an idea-oriented person.
Reflect on Your Career
The positions you’ve held and the work you’ve done hold many clues as to your working style. Rob Green learned that he is idea- and detail-oriented as his career progressed. When he worked at an organization that helped business owners return their companies to profitability, he’d renegotiate with creditors and restructure companies.
“In that role, I had to be fairly creative in terms of identifying ways to solve the problems,” said Green, chief revenue officer at address-verification company Smarty.
It wasn’t enough to simply think of the solution. Green also had to devise a plan for the company to repay creditors, which required a detail-oriented approach. “That’s how I realized those two styles were most effective for me,” he said.
Don’t Discount How You Spend Your Free Time
Leadership consultant Alexandra Phillips discovered her working style at the Parent Teacher Association. Volunteer organizations tap the strengths of volunteers, and Phillips soon realized she was great at coming up with ideas. The organization didn’t have a dedicated fundraising team, so Phillips floated the idea of a Grandparents Day as a way to raise money and display the school to grandparents. PTA leaders and fellow volunteers complimented her on her ability to create ideas.
Your work is one thing; your employer pays you for a certain skill. You can, Phillips said, get a more finely tuned sense of your style outside of what you’re paid to do. As suggested above, pay attention to what makes you happy, and what others think you’re good at, in your volunteer efforts.
Ask Friends and Colleagues for Their Opinions
Asking questions is a perfectly acceptable way to gain some insight, said Griscom of Tradefluence. Griscom suggests finding a handful of people with whom you work closely or whom you admire. Ask them questions about our work and your approach for work. One way to ask it: “If you were building a team of three people to start a brand-new company, would I be on the list? If yes, why and if not, why not?”
Ask the question of someone who’s further along on their career path than you. Whether you’re on or off the list, the answer (“yes, you’re a great ideas person and team player” or “no, you tend to get too lost in details to be part of a startup team) will clue you in as to your working style.
Another strategy: Get some time with someone higher up in your company, and walk them through your approach to a current company challenge. Ask them to critique your approach; their answers will reveal clues as to your working style, Griscom said.
Take Feedback Seriously
When Sussman of the Institute for Financial Wellness was in college, his career counselor complimented him on his communication skills. “I didn’t believe him at the time,” Sussman said. When Sussman began a career as a financial professional, and began getting “amazing” feedback from his mentor and prospective clients after product presentations, “I started to realize I had a talent for expressing myself effectively,” he said. “I realized my skills were in sales, marketing and communicating, even though analytics and spreadsheets were not my strong suit.”
Sussman was lucky enough to get that feedback early in his career. If you haven’t yet, don’t worry. Start paying attention to how you work, from the way you tackle each day to the way you approach projects. Your working style(s) will emerge, and chances are you’ll be a better employee, and more successful professional, for it.