Ever wonder why you have great chemistry with some colleagues and butt heads with others? It comes down to your working style, says Kim Christfort, coauthor of Business Chemistry: Practical Magic for Crafting Powerful Work Relationships and national managing director of Deloitte Greenhouse Experience, an innovation lab.

“Some people like risks, others prefer rules. Some want consensus, while others want to win,” she says. “Think of these traits as magnetically charged particles. Some cluster together and attract while others spread apart and repel. Identifying everyone’s pattern can help you work better together.”

Using a data-based approach, Christfort and her coauthor, social-personality psychologist Suzanne M. Johnson, identified four primary working styles that are based on how people interact:


Pioneers value possibilities, take risks, and spark energy and imagination on their teams. “They’re big-picture thinkers who want to take advantage of opportunities or create new ones,” says Christfort. “They tend to not be detail-minded, and they make quick, spontaneous decisions.”


Guardians like stability, order, and rigor. They’re pragmatic, detail-oriented, and risk-averse. “Guardians are thoughtful about everything,” she says. “Unlike Pioneers, they’re slower to take on new things, and they look before they leap.”



Drivers thrive on challenge, results, and winning. They tackle problems head on with logic. “Drivers are goal-oriented,” says Christfort. “They feel more connected when there is a debate.”


Integrators prefer connection and consensus. They are diplomatic and draw teams together. They connect people and are empathetic. “Integrators can understand the context of moving pieces,” she says. “They’re the glue that holds the pieces together.”

People can be a blend of two types, and the most common combinations are Pioneers/Drivers and Guardians/Integrators.

While Deloitte offers a Business Chemistry program for organizations that want to formally use the information in their workplace, it’s not that difficult to recognize yourself as well as others based on actions and characteristics that are observable in a business setting, says Christfort.

“How quickly do you make decision?” she asks. “Are you open to risk? It’s almost like a poker player looking for tells. If they can identify them, it increases the probability of knowing what’s going on, and making a smart play.”


Once you identify your own style and the styles of your coworkers, you can use them to improve collaboration as well as recognize your own tendencies and biases.

“If you look around, chances are not everyone is like you; the styles are evenly distributed,” says Christfort. “If you’re having a conflict or feel someone isn’t catching on or doesn’t get it, they probably have a totally different style. It’s not a case of me against you.”

While you might need to make accommodations if you have a boss with a different working style, the goal is to flex when it comes to peers. Flexing means recognizing that you may not have everything you need to be successful.

“Flex can mean to bend or stretch,” says Christfort. “When you get it right, flexing involves going back and forth, bouncing between styles. You both flex enough to relate, and respect and value what the other person brings. Together you are more than the sum of parts.”

Combining different working styles often creates better output. “Alone, you might miss some key aspects, context, or risk beyond your own view,” says Christfort. “Naturally most of us want to work with someone more like ourselves, but if you bring in an opposite perspective you get a better solution.”

Leaders who choose people for projects should use the styles to create a balanced team. “Look at the team and the bare minimum needed for each type to thrive,” says Christfort. “A Guardian needs an agenda and time to process before making decisions. Pioneers want opportunity and a white board to brainstorm. Drivers want to get to the point quickly. And Integrators want to connect with others, socialize ideas, and get alignment. Decide what tasks to give each and when to bring them into the project.”

Give Guardians a chance to prepare thoughts before a meeting, for example, so they have time they need. Let Pioneers lead brainstorming sessions. And if you don’t have a particular working style, have it represented in another way. For example, if you don’t have a Driver, task someone to play devil’s advocate, Christfort suggests.

Tapping into working styles helps coworkers get along and contribute their best work, says Christfort. “We’re going into a world where people don’t always sit next to each other,” she says. “We have to make sure we can build a strong relationship working together.”