How to Improve Team Collaboration by Writing a User Manual for Working With You

A simple document can dramatically improve collaboration in your team. This post shows you how you can create a "user manual for yourself" in 30 minutes, which outlines everything you wish your colleagues knew about how you like to work.

User manual - how to work with me

As a kid, I spent a lot of time with Pokémon, trying to so progress in virtual games on my Gameboy Color. As an adult I spend a lot of time with my colleagues, trying to progress in real games in business. My co-conspirators in both of these games have something in common – every individual, be it Pikachu or Jenny at HR, has its distinct strengths, weaknesses, special moves and sore spots.

In the realm of Pokémons, it is easy to understand what those individual strengths and weaknesses are. You just open your PokéDex, search for the Pokémon, and look at its stats. Boom, there it is in plain text. Now you know exactly which Pokémon is best suited to solve a particular problem or get you through a challenging situation. Simple.

In the realm of colleagues, not so much. Colleagues’ superpowers are often hidden, strengths are underdeveloped, and the paths to evolution and growth are non-obvious. This makes leadership and effective collaboration much more difficult and time-consuming than it needs to be.

You see where this is going. Wouldn’t it be great if you had a PokéDex for your team? This post is about why and how to make one.

The Magic Power of User Manuals for Your Colleagues

Consider this: if you buy a new washing machine, you get a user manual which tells you how to operate it to get the most out of its fancy functionality. But when you meet a new person, you get no up-front guidance at all.

Given the complexity of human beings compared to the relative simplicity of a meager washing machine, this seems ridiculous. Where are the user manual to help us bring out a person’s best version of himself, his top strengths, abilities and best character traits?

As it turns out, we humans don’t come with a user manual attached. Therefore, I suggest you create your own. It has the potential to improve your relationships, effectiveness and quality of life dramatically.

Just imagine yourself as you are about to start a new job. The week before your first day, you get a detailed User Manual for each of the colleagues you’ll work closest with. It tells you how each person likes to work. It outlines their communication style. It describes their personality traits, written in their own words. It’s everything each person wants you to know about working with them.

How much time would you save in the process of getting to know your colleagues’ preferences and peculiarities?

How happy would each person on your team be to not have to explain their preferences AGAIN to a new person? How much friction and irritation would be avoided for all parties involved?

If you knew that Tom needs hours of deep work every day to feel flow and happiness, how much more empathy and understanding would you have for him when he doesn’t want to chitchat with you as you pass his desk for the fifth time today?

From a manager’s perspective, how much time would be saved in the onboarding process if your new hires understood the basics of your company culture, and knew the ins and outs of their new colleagues before even starting on the job?

How much easier would it be for potential applicants to evaluate how well they would fit into a team if they could open the team’s repository of user manuals and read about the team members before even applying for a job to join them?

What it Looks Like in Practice: My Public User Manual

As the cofounder of a small but growing company, I get to implement and try this out first hand.

We have built an “Internal Wikipedia” of our collective knowledge, shared wisdom and lessons learned since the day we started the company. In the wiki, we have all the usual stuff like Standard Operating Procedures, Frequently Asked Questions and so on – everything a new (or old and forgetful!) team member needs to know is there. We have also added a page for every team member to describe him or herself, to create the user manual for working well with him or her.

Each team member’s user manual contains a set of guiding questions. Each person is free to answer these if he or she wants, or to throw them out and write something completely different. Or to skip the writing alltogether, and instead create a video, a set of cartoons, or a podcast where they interview themselves. The point of the user manual is just one thing: to tell your colleagues what you wish they knew about you and the way you like to work.

If you’re curious about what this can look like in pratice, you can check out my personal user manual in our internal team wiki by clicking here.

Create Your Own User Manual

If you’re intrigued by this idea and want to create a user manual for yourself, consider these guiding questions. Treat them as a buffet, pick and choose the ones that speak to you, and write out answers to them.

As a bonus effect, you may experience a boost in your own self-awareness by answering these questions. If you don’t know exactly how you prefer to work, it is very difficult to communicate those preferences to others, so I can whole heartedly recommend you to find that out.

Guiding Questions to Create a User Manual for Yourself

  • What do I value in my work? What’s important to me?
  • What are my key strengths and weaknesses?
  • How do I like to work? Alone or together?
  • What are some of my personality traits you should know about?
  • How do I prefer to be communicated with?
  • When am I most productive?
  • What does an ideal workday look like for me? What about an ideal week?
  • What am I good at that isn’t obvious at first glance? How can I add value beyond my specific role?
  • What are some of my unhealthier tendencies that you should be aware of? How can you help me get back to a healthy state of mind?
  • How do I tend to make decisions? By intuition or analysis? Alone or collaboratively? Well in advance or at the last moment?
  • What makes me weird?
  • The best place I’ve ever worked was X. It was great for me because…
  • The worst place I’ve ever worked was Y. It was a bad fit for me because…
  • What else do I wish you knew about me?

Having implemented this across our team, I can tell you one thing: user manuals for your colleagues make your working life so much better. Do yourself a favour and create one for your team as well. Your colleagues and your future self will thank you.

Did you enjoy this post? Feel free to share it with a friend or two who might like it also.

To read more from me in the future, subscribe to my newsletter Undringer (in Norwegian), or For The Curious (in English).

Also published on Medium.

Leave a Reply