Use the Right Style at the Right Time


Every stage of team development has different characteristics. These different characteristics mean that every stage calls for leaders to behave in different ways to support team growth.

In From Bud to Boss, Kevin Eikenberry and I reference the Tuckman Model of team development as a useful tool for understanding what is happening in your team at each stage of development as it moves from a group of individuals working in the same location to a high-performing team working towards a common goal.  The four stages of team development – in order – are Forming, Storming, Norming and Performing

We also reference the DISC model as a useful tool for understanding both yourself and others so that you can adjust your communication style for maximum effectiveness. The DISC model is based on recognizing and adapting to both pace (faster or slower) and priority (tasks or relationships) differences between people. The four DISC styles are Dominant (faster pace and task priority), Inspiring (faster pace and relationship priority), Supportive (slower pace and relationship priority), and Cautious (slower pace and task priority).

By combining the models you can gain insights for how to best lead your team through each of the four stages. You will use many different leadership behaviors at all stages of team development. And, based on where your team is at a given time, you can focus your efforts for maximum effectiveness.

In the Forming stage, your team will likely exhibit polite, cautious behaviors and look to you for strong guidance and direction. Team members do not yet know exactly what is expected of them as they work together. While many of the concerns at this stage are related to relationship development, you can often help them best by giving clarity about what needs to get done. You can use Dominant behaviors – directing activities, setting goals, and solving problems – to help your team gain the clarity and direction they need to grow from a group of individuals to a high-performing team.

In the Storming stage, your team might experience conflicts and struggles. This is a very dangerous phase of team development because relationships can be irreparably harmed by conflicts, relationship struggles, and wrestling with organizational issues. To navigate these rough waters, you can use Cautious behaviors – asking thoughtful questions, carefully evaluating information, and developing processes – to guide your team on to the next stage of development.

As your team enters the Norming stage, they will focus more on task accomplishment and less on interpersonal issues. There might still be a few left-over relationship issues to resolve and some gentle guidance to offer to keep them growing. You can use Supportive behaviors – offering reassurance, encouraging, and listening – to solidify the team growth gains you made in the previous two stages.

Finally, your team moves into the Performing stage. They are pretty self-sufficient. They know what needs to be done and how to do it. They are almost totally focused on goal achievement. Now, you can use Inspiring behaviors – enthusiasm, cheerleading, and celebrating – to keep your team’s energy up for the long haul.

The suggestions I offer here are targeted at maximizing your leadership effectiveness based on the stage of team development by tying your leadership behaviors to an objective model. Use these suggestions to identify what your team needs from you at each stage.

With individuals, you need to adjust to their particular style without regard to the team’s stage of development.

photo credit: gfpeck via photopin cc

Using the DISC Model: Four Steps to Success with Others

The video pretty much says it all for this post. It quickly gives you four steps for applying the DISC model for success with others.

In a nutshell, the four steps are…

  1. Understand the DISC model
  2. Understand your style (where you fit in the model).
  3. Understand the other person’s style (where they fit in the model).
  4. Adjust your words, behaviors, and tone to best fit how they receive information.

The video is about 7 minutes long.

If you would like insights for how to apply these four steps better, you can check out my Connecting With People and DISC Model FAQ’s post series. For even deeper insights, check out my products. If you really want to master these four steps, take a look at The Ultimate Communicator Workshop.

Applying the DISC Model: Breaking Through A Common Frustration

Today, I led a DISC communication skills workshop that ended with a role-play exercise to allow participants the opportunity to practice the skills we had been discussing.

For many of the people in the class, this was their first in-depth exposure to the DISC model and how to use it to more effectively communicate with others. The class was lively, engaged, and energetic with everyone in the room displaying a highly positive approach to learning. And, the role-play exercise brought to the surface a common frustration many people feel as they learn to apply the concepts I teach for becoming a better communicator.

As people attempted to “put on” the style of another person during the role-play, many of them felt awkward. Their role-play partners sensed this awkwardness. As a result, the participants attempts to connect with people with a different natural behavior style actually decreased the connection between them rather than increasing it.

They were frustrated. I was encouraged.

I was encouraged because they were making a genuine effort to connect with other people in a way that would make the recipient of the communication attempt feel most comfortable. Even though the results were not all that great initially, the effort to bridge the difference gap encouraged me.

They saw their efforts as failures. I saw their efforts as natural parts of the learning process.

A model for learning I often use speaks of learning happening in four stages:

  1. Unconscious incompetence
    The “I don’t know that I don’t know” stage.
  2. Conscious incompetence
    The “I realize that I don’t know something” stage.
  3. Conscious competence
    The “I understand how to do this, and I have to think about it to make it work” stage.
  4. Unconscious competence
    The “this has become natural to me and I don’t have to think about it any more” stage.

In attempting to apply the learning from the session, they were confronted with both the difficulty and awkwardness of learning to apply a new skill.

When I talked with them about the skills and they asked me questions, my answers seemed rather simple and effortless to them. For me, the answers were simple and effortless. In many situations, I have achieved (after much struggle and many failures) the unconscious competence level of learning for this material.

They are at the uncomfortable level of learning somewhere between conscious incompetence and conscious competence.

To break through this frustration, I encouraged them to keep at it even though the communication approach felt odd. I also encouraged them to seek feedback from other people about how their communication efforts were progressing. For example, I told people with Dominant traits to seek feedback from people with Supportive traits and vice-versa.

If you want to master using the DISC model to become a better communicator, I encourage you to do the same thing. Keep practicing and getting feedback on your efforts. You will eventually break through the awkwardness of trying to put on another person’s communication style to the comfort of authentically communicating by understanding their communication style.

Using the DISC Model: Focus on Needs More than Behaviors


The DISC Model of Human Behavior is, as the name implies, about behavior. And, to apply it well, I suggest looking beyond behavior to the needs behind the behavior to really use it to connect and communicate with other people more effectively.

To illustrate the point, consider the refrigerator shown above. While this one has no food in it, I imagine you can think of a time when you opened a refrigerator door to check the contents. I also imagine that many of the times when you have stood with the door open were times when you were hungry and looking for food.

Looking in the refrigerator (the behavior) was the expression of an unmet need (you were hungry).

And, if you found an empty refrigerator enough times, you just might decide to escalate your behavior by leaving your house to get food.

People tend to behave in ways that get their needs met. When their needs are unmet, they will continue escalating their behaviors in an increasingly intense effort to meet their needs.

Food is a physical need, and we will act to get food when we do not have it. Likewise, we all have certain emotional/psychological needs, and we also act to get them met.

The DISC model is one tool that you can use to get an estimate of another person’s emotional/psychological needs so that you can take positive, intentional actions that increase your ability to effectively connect and communicate with him or her.

I only plan to hit some high spots with this post, and I certainly do not want to present this brief article as a comprehensive guide. There are many other factors to consider when it comes to understanding other people’s needs. And, the DISC model is still a good tool you can use to make an educated guess.

With that caveat said, here are some general needs you can consider as you work to understand yourself and others:

  • Outgoing, task-oriented, Dominant individuals often need:
    choices, challenges, and control.
  • Outgoing, people-oriented, Inspiring individuals often need:
    recognition,  approval, and admiration.
  • Reserved, people-oriented, Supportive individuals often need:
    appreciation, security, and assurance.
  • Reserved, task-oriented, Cautious individuals often need:
    quality answers, value and excellence.

When you work to understand these needs and to see other people’s behaviors through the filter of their needs rather than your own, you can make the adjustments to  your communication style that allows you to meet — or at least not challenge — another person’s needs so that you can create an environment for mutual gain.

Photo by RowdyKittens.

Why I Use The DISC Model

People frequently ask me why I use the DISC model in my work. Today, I’ll offer some of my reasons.

I use the DISC model because:

  • It is simple enough that…
    • I can work with someone for only a few minutes and help them gain perspective they have never seen before.
    • I can use it to help me when I am tired, stressed or angry.
    • I don’t need assessment results to understand another person.
  • It is descriptive enough that…
    • It helps me to see others more objectively and less subjectively.
    • It leads me towards understanding and away from judgment.
  • It is accurate enough that…
    • I can get a good guess about what someone wants from me when we communicate.
    • I can quickly understand another person’s perspective.
  • It is flexible enough that…
    • I can use it “on the fly” in real-life situations.
    • I can see the blends, subtleties and variations in other people’s perspectives without trying to force them neatly into a single box or label them.

Is the model perfect? No.

Does the model explain every nuance of human behavior? No.

Are there better clinical or analytical models? Yes.

Despite these limitations, for real-world, working-with-people-in-the-moment situations, it is the best tool for me.

These are the reasons that I use the DISC model.