Q&A: How do you know if you’re a good match?

We even fight with our best friends, but we still love them.

We even fight with our best friends, but we still love them.

One of the students we work with at Insanitek asked a brilliant question in The Forum (our version of a break room). She is looking to collaborate with someone on a project, and there are lots of people with the right skills to choose from. She asked, “How do you know if you’re a good match?

This is a great question whether you are hiring, looking for a collaboration partner, or looking for a life partner. We all have walked into that wall (OK, some of us run — *ahem*) that stops us from going forward when we team up with the wrong person. Fights break out, stress runs high, productivity goes down, and you pretty much feel like throwing in the towel in all areas of your life.

The difference between finding a good match and a yes-man isn’t necessarily a small one. For example, our best friends aren’t necessary smile and give us everything we want, but the person that frustrates you while you’re planning to do something seriously bad for your health, like gorge on a few extra-large pizzas while spending the evening gaming. They are the person that looks at you like you are nuts — and calls you out on things — when you’re going too far, too.

So, how do you find this “perfect collaborator”?

The secret lies in spending more time listening, and less time talking. If you have the opportunity to hang around with a bunch of people in person before you collaborate with them for a short project, just hang back and listen for a while. Listen to what they say, what they value, what they like and don’t like. Listen to what they complain about, what they dream of, what they would change. Ask open-ended questions of people, and really engage yourself in listening. Take mental notes as you go, and decide on whether or not you could work with them.

What you see is definitely not what you get.

What you see is definitely not what you get.

For example, if they are always complaining of deadlines — and missing them, you likely don’t want to put them in a role of responsibility for anything that has to be done in a timely manner. But, if you have some rote tasks that they can do and all you need is a few iterations? Well, you might have someone you can work happily with.

That works great for the short-term, but what about the longer projects or to hire?

There are multiple personality tests out there. Myers-Briggs is the most popular, but I think it’s utter shit. Every time I’ve taken one of those, it puts me in a different camp. I also know how to manipulate it so I can appear certain ways, and so does anyone who’s taken time to study these personality tests. So, I don’t start there. Instead, I start with the cultural iceberg.

Edward T. Hall developed a cultural iceberg model in 1976 as part of his lectures in archaeology, then wrote a book on it called Beyond Culture. Hall explains how what you see at the surface is only a small fraction of what you see as part of the person. So, offer to meet with them for lunch, letting them choose, and you might get a glimpse into the bare surface of their deep culture. This is convoluted with any one person because who they are is an amalgamation of their parents, grandparents, circumstance, neighbours, friends, and their own personality. It tells you a little about the person, but cultural icebergs will never tell you the whole person.

DISC-DiagramSo, I combine this concept with a personality style (not type) called the DISC model, which looks for patterns in the way people act and think. This makes them more predictable, and thus you can predict how well they will perform in a certain job given the demands of it. It doesn’t try to shoe-horn people into a specific personality type like the other personality tests out there. Instead, it looks to put people on a grid for their tendencies and patterns.

If you’ve got a person in front of you that is “mostly” task focused, cautious, and reserved, you’re looking at a person that is likely good with compliance. This person is good with the small details. They are contentious, considerate of the minutiae, motivated by high quality, but often fearful of criticism. This person can be introverted, extroverted, arrogant, or anything other tag you want to place on them from any of these trait tests, but their style is still predictably the same detail-oriented with a lot more variability. You can work with that a lot better in understanding and picturing their role within a project or company.

However, many people are not all or nothing in any one trait or style test. That’s why the DISC method tends to say a person is “mostly” C, with a little S. They use actual percentages based on the tests they come out with. Honestly, though, if you are good at working with people, you can get fairly good at talking to people and making a “best guess” as to where your potential collaborator stands. Learn the exams well, then ask some well placed, open-ended questions over lunch and see what you’re working with. If you combine two methods, one cultural and one psychological, you can likely pin a person down so you can figure out ways to work together well — or dodge them in favour of a better fit.