The other day, I was in a small committee meeting with people I know, I like, and with whom I’ve worked for quite a while. Halfway through the meeting, and I found myself wanting to smack them all. The meeting had degenerated into a series of one way discussions, with neither side actually listening to the other. We were driving each other crazy, and the project we were discussing was probably doomed. How could reasonable, friendly people get so far apart in such a short time?
The answer, according to author and management consultant Les McKeown, is that our natural styles make it almost impossible for us to work effectively as a team. We’re so different, he writes in his 20 book The Synergist, that even social conversations can become “blighted by misperceptions, misunderstandings, and outright manipulation.” Yikes.
In The Synergist: How to Lead Your Team to Predictable Success, McKeown identifies what he considers to be the three natural styles: “The Visionary with big ideas and little interest in execution, the Processor who insists on putting every detail through a system, slowing things down, and the Operator who just wants to end the meeting and get back to the “real work.” These three characters—’Visionary’, ‘Processor’, and ‘Operator’ (VOP)—sit at every business meeting, each battling for their competing agendas and together blocking the way to real progress.”
It turns out, according to the free quiz available at the Synergist website, that I’m a strong Visionary. I did recognize myself in the profile; I love big ideas and getting together with a group of smart people to kick the idea around until it takes shape. I’m comfortable with ambiguity, and don’t mind breaking new ground and taking professional risks. My first answer is almost always an enthusiastic “yes!” to any project. Then I take the time to figure out how I’m going to make it work. I trust my gut, and find that it seldom lets me down. If I make a decision, and it does turn out to be a mistake, I have no problem reversing course. That, to me, is the natural course of action – change your mind and power on.
To my constant amazement, many people I like and respect just don’t see it that way. My temperamental opposite, the Processor, sees it as her mission in life to eliminate as much risk as possible (which always translates for me into “eliminating as much fun as possible.”)Processors are the unsung heroes of almost any organization; they work at creating and maintaining systems that keep the trains on the tracks and the CEO out of jail. Without them, a large organization simply couldn’t function. But left to their own devices, they can spend too much of their time on doing things right – at the cost of doing the right things. Paperwork becomes the end - instead of the means – by which we get things done.
Operators are the action-oriented movers and shakers in the organization. They work longer hours and are more productive in the field than other patterns, but they consider their work with customers to be the “real” work of the organization. They hate paperwork, and intensely dislike being micromanaged (and in their eyes, almost all management is the micro kind.) They’re the masters of asking forgiveness instead of permission, which drives processors crazy. They also hate brainstorming meetings; actually, they hate most meetings, considering them a colossal waste of valuable time. Give them a to-to list and get out of the way.
As I read about the inherent problems caused by Visionary, Operator and Processor behavior, I began to wonder how any project ever succeeds. Enter the Synergist, says McKeown. Synergistic behavior can be learned, unlike the other styles, which are hard wired into our personalities. Synergist behavior appears only within groups, because it consists of behavior that helps the Visionary, Operator and Processor connect, communicate and start pulling in the same direction. The Synergist’s role is to regulate the extreme behaviors of the other styles, helping them to elevate the needs of the organization above their own strong innate tendencies.
A good Synergist can make everybody feel heard and understood during a meeting and resolve issues quickly by presenting new ways of framing the problem. Some people are natural synergists, and you probably have run into one or two in your career. They’re the ones who seem to be able to get the best out of any difficult personality and get things done that no one else can. They’re worth their weight in gold, according to McKeown, because they balance the team and allow them to get results.
Take the free quiz to learn about your natural style. Next, How to live with a Visionary, and Operator or a Processor.