Have you ever been in a meeting that ran positively electric with new ideas? Where people laughed and generated a gigantic list of possibilities that … two months later, nobody had acted on? 

Or have you ever slunk into a meeting late because you’d been dreading it? Where despite respecting everyone there, this one always drained you with its insufferable monotony?

I’m fascinated by how good people can nevertheless perform poorly in the wrong situations. They can be demotivated and enervated in an otherwise safe work environment, with otherwise agreeable coworkers. What I’ve come to understand throughout my career is that it’s largely a question of working styles. 

I know personality tests and archetypes aren’t always strictly provable. But that doesn’t make them unuseful. I’ve found they help put words to feelings that can utterly transform the process of work. With small nudges, you can unlock vast amounts of joy and productivity among your people. And that gift of self-understanding keeps on giving.

Today, I share how we’ve used a system of archetypes at Caldwell Consulting & Training to completely transform how we build teams and do our work.

Right person, wrong room

When someone’s unproductive, very rarely is it just about them. Their environment plays a big role, as do the people around them. In my introduction, I talked about a bunch of people who love to ideate together. But if none of them feel a desire to sort those ideas, select one, and get to work, all you have is an ideas machine. 

But if you select the right group of people to work together? You can have all that ideational fun, but still get things done. You just have to involve people who specialize in selection and execution. Allow me to illustrate this with an example. 

Let’s say you attend an accounting conference and it’s a bolt of inspiration. You meet 100 new vendors and think, “Oh my gosh that sounds fantastic.” But once you return to the office, which do you act on? Well, the best people to send to that conference are people who get really excited by new ideas—let’s call them your “wonder” and “invention” people. 

And when they return? Have them debrief with someone who excels at discernment, or parsing ideas and deciding which are realistic and desirable. 

Let’s say you now have one great idea. With the buzz from the conference now wearing off, how do you get the team—most of whom didn’t attend—behind that idea? That takes someone to galvanize others. I’ll bet you see where I’m going with this. It’s an assembly line. That galvanizer will rush around the office saying, “Guys, this is so cool. This new single-sign-on technology means we’ll only need to remember one login. It’s going to be so much easier!”

But it can’t stop there. You need someone who’ll encourage and enable others to take it on, and then people who are tenacious enough to stick with those pieces to see them through. 

If ideas go through that process, good things get acted upon. The above is a real scenario from our firm, and that’s how we went from excitement about all the boundless potential directly to decisive and focused action. We involved the right people in the right order. And we knew to do that because we’d taken a personality assessment.

How do you know who’s most helpful where?

Let’s dig into the six archetypes from my example above. They come from a model I particularly like (and which I like so much, I’m now certified in it—but otherwise have no affiliation) called “The Six Types of Working Genius,” by The Table Group. There are many models—I recommend you find one you and your team love!

The six archetypes this model proposes are: 

  • Wonder—Loves to dream big
  • Invention—Loves to create new ways of doing things
  • Discernment—Loves to make decisions
  • Galvanizing—Loves to get others on board 
  • Enablement—Loves to encourage others
  • Tenacity—Loves to see something through

When ideas pass through that funnel, things tend to go well and people tend to enjoy the work. Which isn’t to say that we each can’t possess pieces of every archetype. We’re human, can change from situation to situation, and all have some of each. (There are some environments where I’m chatty, and others where I’m more reserved. You can think of it as having a range from strengths to frustrations in each area.) But on the whole, each person has a preferred working style that’s a combination of what they love, what they’re good at, and what’s really useful to the group. 

Which are you? And who is everyone else on your team? Let’s explore that next.

How to know which archetype you are

Ask yourself, what do you gravitate toward when you’re at your highest and lowest? When you’re really excited at work, what’s all you want to do? Talk to people? Build a checklist? Smile inwardly but keep working? And what about when your brain is fried after a long day? What’s the thing you find yourself gravitating to while you procrastinate?

If there’s a clear through line between those two things, you’ve got a clear answer. But of course, it’s not always so simple. 

I tend to find that most accountants found their way into that role because they’re the enablement and tenacity type. They’re detail-oriented and like to be in the weeds, and can forget to pull back and see the big picture, which is why advisory often doesn’t come naturally. (I’m generalizing here.) But on a team of all one type, I’ll bet certain people like to lean in different directions. Maybe they play devil’s advocate or dabble in wonder, invention, and discernment. 

Once you have those archetypes in mind, you’ll start to notice people’s tendencies, and so will they. You can also take all sorts of assessments and tests, which is also just a fun team-bonding experience because it’s one thing for people to know who they are—it’s a whole other to know who others are, and how they like to participate.

Start organizing around archetypically productive teams

Once you start to recognize who’s who on the team, you can organize things more effectively. It gives you the language to say, “Okay, this is the type of meeting we’re having, and here’s who needs to be here.” For example, if I’m doing a real tactical meeting, and it isn’t the time to sit there and dream, maybe I’ll keep a sketch pad on hand and save all my big ideas for the appropriate time.

Or if you’re the tenacity person in that strategy meeting, write down the concerns that you’re thinking about that are going to come up later, so that you’re not disturbing the flow of ideas in that type of meeting. It’s all about knowing when to show up and making sure that you have all of that represented in your team as well.

Once you start to recognize who’s who on the team, you can organize things more effectively.

We recently went through a rebrand where we split off our accounting and advisory services. In that meeting, I brought a bookkeeper. She’s not on the leadership team, but we all know her working genius is discernment, and she brought a fantastic perspective and ability to think through ideas that wouldn’t have been there otherwise. And it’s something we’d have never  thought to do had we not been asking, “What’s missing from this team?”

Right person, right room

With a sense of your team’s archetypes, you all gain a collective language for organizing meetings and teamwork in a way that works for everyone. Your high-flying ideas people can work with folks who love to decide, and those who prefer to be left out until it’s time to execute can excuse themselves. 

You can go from 400 wild ideas down to five realistic ones, and then just one great one, and actually see it through. And everyone can be productive and have fun along the way because they’re getting to work within their genius. 

Want to talk about working geniuses? I get really excited about this topic. Let’s chat about it on LinkedIn.

Carla Caldwell With over 25 years of experience in the accounting field, Carla Caldwell understands the complexities facing today’s accounting firm. Drawing on her background in technology education, Carla combines her extensive industry knowledge with an intuitive ability to connect with people, which places her in an elite class of accounting consultants and trainers. She knows how to evaluate the needs of a firm and implement solutions based on that firm’s processes, client niche, and optimal workflow. Carla also finds time to lead her own accounting and advisory firm, giving her the insight to turn abstract concepts into real-world, practical solutions for accounting firms of all sizes.
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