Picture this: You’re working on a group project that is close to its deadline and want to gently inform your colleague that their portion of the work is missing. Tricky and potentially awkward situation, right? If this is a scenario you’ve found yourself in before, don’t worry — you’re not alone. What if you could reference a cheat sheet for working with this person to ensure that your feedback is received well? Because, let’s face it, it’s hard to reach out when you don’t have a solid relationship to go off of.
At Donut, we developed User Manuals to help new and existing team members learn more about each other’s communication preferences and working styles. User Manuals promote team building by enabling and normalizing proactive conversation, building trust, and reducing potential misunderstandings.
Why User Manuals Matter
The idea is intuitive, but the practice is relatively new: Quartz ties User Manuals at work back to Ivar Kroghrud, a CEO who created his own User Manual to help his team understand how to work with him. He found that “if you use the exact same approach with two different people, you can get very different outcomes.” In other words, a one size fits all method isn’t ideal for communication. With this in mind, User Manuals can be an essential tool for improving communication and team engagement.
Here at Donut, we have implemented the same concept internally with a focus on building connections and camaraderie among teammates. We’re excited to share our User Manual template with you in hopes that it may help your team feel more confident and comfortable when discussing topics at work.
>> Get a Copy of Our Template!
Tips for Creating Your Team’s User Manuals
An effective User Manual may include different components ranging from organizational to fun.
On the lighter side, some teams include sections where folks can share what their hobbies are or which movies and television shows they enjoy. It’s a fun way to get to know your coworkers better outside their roles and can help boost team morale.
Other more structured aspects might consist of a person’s working hours, how they want to receive feedback, and so on. Asking everyone to share this information can help avoid misunderstandings and set healthy communication boundaries.
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The process of creating a User Manual template can be done relatively quickly. To get started, consider asking about four main topics: communications preferences, working style, conflict resolution, and fun facts.
This is important because poor communication often leads to misunderstandings and conflict. Ask questions like:
- How do you like to communicate?
- Do you prefer verbal or written communication (synchronous or asynchronous)?
- What’s the best method to get in touch with you? (tagging in public Slack channels, Slack DMs, email, etc.).
This is especially important for remote and hybrid teams, which require more explicit expectation setting.
- What’s your preferred collaboration style?
- Asynchronous or synchronous?
- Do you like team brainstorming or workshopping?
- How do you like to give feedback?
- Immediately or in a follow-up?
- Face-to-face or in Slack?
- When do you work?
- When are your core working hours?
- What time zone are you in?
- Where do you work?
- Do you work from home, in the office, or both?
- Which state or country do you work from?
This matters because conflict happens. It’s inevitable. However, productive and respectful disagreement can be a powerful culture-building tool. Asking these questions can foster open dialogue, encourage critical conversations, build psychological safety & trust, and encourage divergent thinking & big ideas.
- How do you like to be approached when there may be a disagreement?
- Directly or with a mediator?
- Slack or Zoom?
- What do you need to destress?
- Do you like to take a quick walk outside?
- Do you prefer to talk about your stressors with a teammate?
- What are your pet peeves or hot buttons?
When we know our colleagues as humans, there is greater understanding, empathy, and perspective taking (not to mention relationships that can drive collaboration and retention).
- What are some things that your teammates may not know about you?
- Are you big on traveling?
- Do you have any pets?
- How do you like to express yourself or spend your free time?
- What are your hobbies?
- Do you have any favorite TV shows or movies?
Our template starts with several slides that help you articulate your working style, from offline responsiveness to preferred slack conversation starters—followed by listing your working hours and detailing how you’d like to receive feedback or help with projects. We’ve also included a section to help discover clear patterns and preferences for communication styles to make team bonding easier. This includes delving into your values and the best ways to build trust. Like many other User Manual templates we’ve seen, we also include a section to share your personal, outside-of-work interests by listing your hobbies or sharing fun memes/GIFs that can showcase your personality to your fellow teammates.
*Looking for other things to include? Plenty of teams have adapted their own versions to their culture and needs. A fantastic example of this is Emily Webber’s team manual.
Distributing and Using User Manuals
You’ve constructed a User Manual that fits your team’s needs; now, how do you ensure that people complete theirs, refer to others, and use them to guide working relationships and boost team engagement? At Donut, this is an integral part of the onboarding process. Each time someone new joins the team, they’re encouraged to fill out their manual and link it to their Slack profile. Some folks also share them in meeting invites when meeting for the first time. This streamlines the action of checking someone’s UM before approaching them with feedback or jumping into a new project together.
Communication preferences and working styles can vary significantly between different people. Building connections despite these differences is an invaluable skill in the workplace, but it’s one that many of us struggle to master. User Manuals can lighten the load by making it easy and normal to practice perspective taking, curiosity, and empathy.
Connecting with Care
Although it may take time and patience for a User Manual system to be fully adopted, we know the outcome is worth the time and effort. Once everyone on the team is familiar with and utilizes User Manuals, they become a part of the work culture. People are better equipped to work together and support each other when they know they have a cheat sheet to aid successful communication and team building.