The Knightsbridge Vital Teams™ process helps team members understand their styles and needs and the impact they have on team dynamics.  We use the Birkman Method® as our tool in this process.  This is the third in a monthly series where I’ll help you look in the mirror using some of the insights that come through the Birkman®.  But don’t worry; you’ll get the benefit even if you haven’t used the tool.

How Much is Enough Structure?

Over your career (and even in your personal life) you’ve probably come to realize that there is a very big difference between people who like to go-with-the-flow and those who prefer to be in control. I’m a go-with-the-flow type, but I know that my comfort with ambiguity is disconcerting for some of my teammates.  As I’m reveling in the wide open spaces, they are suffering agoraphobia from the lack of any boundaries. Our different relationships with structure can have profound effects on teams.

How orderly is your approach to work?

Think about your natural tendencies (refer to the top half of the table below). If you think about your desk, does it tend toward organization so that over time, everything finds its place? Or does it tend toward entropy where slowly but surely everything ends up all over everywhere? Now think about your to-do lists, your project plans, or your files: are they systematic or spontaneous?


Structure table

You need to be aware of your natural tendencies toward structure or flexibility so that you’re able to adjust your approach to match the situation you’re in and the people you’re working with. Ambiguous or evolving situations might call for a little playing it by ear. High stakes or complex situations might require thoughtful planning and deliberate action.  For many people, one of these two scenarios will be very foreign.

I saw this play out with a senior leader who has a pretty low-structure approach.  Just based on how extreme her score was, I cautioned her that she might not be providing enough structure for her team. She responded that she brings “a lot” of rigor and discipline to her team.  I suggested that it might be worth a check-in with the team. Sure enough, at the start of our next session, she reported back that the team was so glad she asked because they were desperately in need of more structure and that her version of “a lot” was clearly only relative to her very low structure default.

Getting Your Needs Met

Now take a look at the expectations part of the table.  Which side is more like you?  Do you really need predictability and for things to fit neatly within a framework or do you need room to breathe without too much control? Again, neither is right or wrong.

Getting a sense of the amount of structure you need might help you understand where you feel friction on your team (if someone is imposing structure when you have a low need for it) or where you might feel neglected or disoriented (when you need structure and you’re not getting enough of it).  The best answer in these situations is to be explicit with your boss and your teammates about what you need.

For High Structure Needs

“I’ve learned that I’m best when I can see the whole plan and then work systematically toward it. Could we take a few minutes so you can walk me through the overall project?”

“Before we each go in our separate directions, can we run through what each of us is doing and how the different pieces connect?”

“I find it stressful when we abruptly shift directions. Could you give me a heads up when you get the sense we might be getting new instructions from above?”

For Low Structure Needs

“I’ve learned that I’m best when I get a high-level direction and then have some room to maneuver. Could we go over what you need me to achieve and I’ll come back to you with a high-level plan?”

“I have more energy when I get to work on new things. Would anyone like to switch roles with me on this project—just to change it up a bit?”

“I do best with pretty informal supervision. What do you need from me to feel comfortable that I’m on track?”

As I’ve explained in the previous posts, if your usual style is in one direction and your need is in the other, you’re going to be hard for people to figure out.  If you bring a lot of structure and process to your work but need to have freedom from above, it will be surprising when you rebel or resist too much management.  In contrast, if you are really agile and adaptive but you get stressed without a framework to operate in, you too will catch people off guard.  In either situation, it’s very important to tell people what you need to be at your best.

It’s valuable to look in the mirror sometimes and to see who you are and how you show up on your team.  This is just one dimension that you need to understand about yourself, I’ll share more throughout the series.

[For added benefit, use these tips at home. High and low need for structure might explain some of your angst in planning for weekends or vacations. My husband and I are both comfortable with spontaneity, so we loved our trip to France where we didn’t have a single hotel booked in advance.  Telling this story to those who need structure creates heart palpitations. How are your personal relationships affected by your different structure needs and styles?]

For more information on the Birkman Method® check out their website here.

See Other Posts in the Series

What does respect mean to me?

Do I need to fit in?

How much is enough structure?

How assertive are you?

Are you competing when you should be cooperating?

Are you the tortoise or the hare?

Where do you get your self-esteem?


Further Reading

A Better Meeting Structure

It’s Time for a Little Discipline

How to Stop the Cycle of Micro-Management