Trying the “User Manual to Me” to Good Effect

Giff Constable culture, management

A few months ago, Brad Feld wrote about a cultural exercise that I just tried with my team to very good effect (Brad in turn had referenced this post from David Politis). Instead of taking pysch tests and then trying to make sense of the results, the team answers a few written questions as honestly as possible. Before I get to details, here are some direct responses from people on my team after we did the exercise:

“I really enjoyed reading other people’s user manuals and wish we had done this exercise a long time ago.”

“A really therapeutic and introspective exercise that I think will ultimately helps us have more empathy for one another and let’s us know that our viewpoints really matter.”

“Excellent for self reflection, but also for discovery and better understanding of the rest of us on the team.”

“Easier and more practical than Myers Briggs and personality tests.”

The Questions

Below are the questions, unchanged from Brad’s original post save for merging two questions on giving and getting feedback into one.

  1. What are some honest, unfiltered things about you?
  2. What drives you nuts?
  3. What are your quirks?
  4. How can people earn an extra gold star with you?
  5. What qualities do you particularly value in people who work with you?
  6. What are some things that people might misunderstand about you that you should clarify?
  7. How do you coach people to do their best work and develop their talents?
  8. What’s the best way to communicate with you?
  9. What’s the best way to convince you to do something?
  10. How do you like to give and get feedback?

Rolling out

The below process would probably work well for a team of up to 15 people (I did it with 9). Here are the steps I would recommend to roll this out:

  1. If you are a manager asking your team to do this, first answer the above questions yourself. Be honest and be vulnerable. Time box writing and editing it to an hour, and then send it to a close work colleague (who knows you and will be blunt) for feedback.
  2. Email your team about doing the exercise. Include the list of questions, and then paste in your completed “User Manual” at the bottom of the email so that folks can see their boss walking the walk.
  3. Give them two weeks to complete the assignment. All user manuals should be sent to everyone once the author is finished (the rolling completions make reading easier). Explicitly encourage them to time box writing and editing a draft to an hour (30 min writing, 30 min editing).

Encourage honesty and self-aware vulnerability. One of my team members shared this comment: “I often had to double back and think about whether I was describing an aspirational aspect of myself or how I actually behave.” I think that all of your participants will be working through the same issue, so be clear about whether you want reality versus aspiration (I recommend reality).

In conclusion

As a manager, I found this exercise to be really effective. It gave me a peek into the personalities of the team, and helped me think about how they interact with each other and how I interact with them. I think all of my team members felt the same way.

Thank you Brad (and in turn David Politis who blogged about an Adam Bryant presentation) for putting it out there.