I am always pondering the “Four Tendencies”—my personality framework that divides people into Upholders, Questioners, Obligers, and Rebels. It’s endlessly fascinating.
Understanding the Four Tendencies can be extremely valuable in the workplace, because using the framework can help deal with burn-out, procrastination, insubordination, rigidity, impulsivity, and so on. Often, conflicts arise because two people are of two different Tendencies, so they see things in different ways. Once you take the Tendencies into account, a solution becomes clear.
Recently, I posted on a question that I’m often asked: What’s the best Tendency to hire?
I’m also often asked a related question: What’s the right mix of the Four Tendencies for a team? And the answer is the same: It depends.
It depends on the task of the team, it depends on the particular mix of people on the team, it matters how each Tendency balances the others. So it’s impossible to give a formula.
But I do have several observations.
If you’re putting together a team, be aware that you might be inclined to keep choosing people of your own Tendency. As you’d expect, we “get” our own Tendency best. We understand how that Tendency thinks, how they make decisions, how they thrive, what frustrations they commonly experience. So when you come across someone who matches you, it feels right. But this concentration weakens a team, because you end up with too much of certain qualities, and not enough of others.
Think about the aim of the team, and how the different Tendencies can contribute. Depending on what the team is expected to do, you might want a bit more of one Tendency or another in the mix, to have a bit more of that particular set of strengths.
Be aware that for a team to thrive, people may need different conditions. Some team members may need a particular process or structure, while others don’t. Look for ways to give all team members what they need.
For instance, Questioners can drain and overwhelm others with their questioning, but if they’re going to get on board, they need answers to those questions. Look for ways to give them those answers that don’t exhaust everyone else. Let’s say you’re making a presentation to the team about a new software package. You’ve talked for twenty minutes, most people have heard enough, but two people keep raising their hands. You could say, “If you feel like you’ve learned what you need to know about this transition, feel free to go back to your desk. If you’d like to learn more, stay put, and I’m happy to answer any additional questions you have.”
Similarly, as an Upholder, I don’t like imposing deadlines on other people. My inclination is to say, “I don’t want to be your babysitter. Do your work in your own way, just get it done.” But that doesn’t work well with Obligers. An Obliger friend told me that when he’s interviewing for a position, he always says, “I work best with a tough, demanding boss. That’s how I give my best work. Are you a tough boss?” Some team members may want more check-ins, interim deadlines, deliverables—and some, none of that.
Special note on Rebels: Usually, when a Rebel teams up—a founding team, a sales team, writing partners, a boss and chief of staff—that team member is an Obliger. (This is true in romance as well.) If one member of a team is a Rebel, expect to see an Obliger standing nearby.
Obligers are the “Type O” of the Tendencies—they match up well with all Tendencies. This is very useful to consider, when building a team. Note, too, that Obliger is the biggest Tendency, for both men and women. For that reason, you probably are an Obliger or have Obligers on your team.
But while Obligers tend to match pretty easily with other Tendencies, Rebels match much better with Obligers than they do with Questioners and Upholders, who can become puzzled and frustrated by many aspects of the Rebel way. Obligers often feel excitement and relief when Rebels say, “Come on, let’s forget all that, off we go!” but Questioners and Upholders may get irritated. This isn’t always true, of course, but it’s a striking pattern.
If you’re a Rebel or working with a Rebel, take that into account. If you’re building a team, consider that pattern.
Looking for a quick overview of the Four Tendencies framework? Read more here.
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