Do you care about interpersonal harmony at work?

Do you want to improve team collaboration?

Are you tired of fumbling through the “getting to know each other” phase with a new team member?

Do you wish you spent less time and energy doing all this?

I’m pretty sure the answer to all of these questions is yes.

The good news is, there’s an easy solution: a user manual to working with you.


As consultants, we’re always asking our clients to think about how customers experience their brand and offerings. This exercise is similar in that it forces you to think about how people experience working with you. This conversation allows teams to design accommodating communication channels, work styles, and processes.

Hindsight is 20/20 but I still can’t believe that most of us have wasted so much time in our professional lives trying to figure each other out. Sure, it doesn’t take long to learn the obvious or odd like that hallway conversations with Samantha aren’t productive or Doug hates the sound of chewing so don’t ask him to lunch. But other things can take forever to figure out like that Samantha is quietly and personally offended by lateness or that Doug can’t switch gears quickly and needs you to schedule time to get him at his best. These guessing games can sacrifice time and productivity and in the worst-case scenario, never get discovered at all and give rise to long term problems.

The user manual exercise does require vulnerability, which can be a lot to ask of people. I recommend approaching it by:

  1. Writing an honest and candid version of the manual first. Spend some time reviewing it and pushing yourself to share things you may feel shy or embarrassed about.
  2. Share it with your team and let them know what you got out of the experience of writing it.
  3. Ask them to share theirs with you if they decide to write one. If you’re a manager, you can be more assertive and simply ask your reports to bring theirs to your next one-on-one.
  4. See how the exercise resonates with people before deciding the role these manuals will play in your organization. Our team found it super valuable and fun—today, links to each of our manuals live in our employee handbook so new hires can see them immediately and we can always reference them. I’ve worked with clients for whom the exercise was valuable mostly within the confines of the manager-report relationship or among smaller functional teams.

Below are some good questions you can answer in your manual, but feel free to modify them to suit your team. I’m also sharing my personal manual to me - please don’t use it for evil!

<aside> 📌 Questions to Start With:

Thank you to Graham Siener, people manager extraordinaire, who shared this idea with me via this post from Brad Feld.

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