New team? Share your Quickstart Guides

Craft better working relationships by sharing what matters most to you

Hey there!

Have you ever started writing an article, only to find yourself confronted with the need to re-evaluate your career?

I thought I was writing a guide to Personal User Manuals, but it became clear that this wasn't the answer. And, the real answer requires getting real with ourselves.

Can I share my journey with you? I hope so.

It all started with…

Context: The Rise of Adaptive Teaming

I believe we need to get better at adaptive teaming.

Adaptive Teaming: 

A dynamic approach to project collaboration, where diverse contributors (Including full-time employees, flex workers, external experts, AI, etc.), swiftly adapt to evolving conditions by quickly identifying talent, establishing effective processes, and building working relationships. These teams form quickly, ramp up performance, then disband. Individuals may belong to more than one of these teams at any given time, shifting their focus as the work evolves.

Given this definition, to get good at adaptive teaming, we need more efficient and effective ways to:

  • Identify talent (i.e., find the right-fit folks for the team)

  • Establish effective processes (i.e., Stop wasting a ton of time in meetings and email figuring out what to do and how we'll do it.)

  • Build relationships (i.e., establish enough understanding and mutual trust to work together.)

And for teams to pull that off, every individual team member needs to be identifiable, knowable, and prepared to agree on a process.

This means that YOU and I need more efficient and effective ways to: Know Ourselves, Let Others Know How We Work, and Work Well with Others.

Strategies for Developing Your Professional Adaptability


Know Yourself

Let Others Know How You Work

Work Well with Others

Identify Right-Fit Talent
(Find and Get Found)

Personal Brand Guides

Professional Portfolio: Experiences, Skills, Expertise, etc.

Bios, Resumes, Vanity Sites, Social Media, Speaking, Proposals, Job Applications, Networking, Pitching...

Hiring, Team Formation

Establish Effective Process

Prof. Portfolio:
Working Style

??? Personal User Manuals ???

Working Team Agreements

Build Relationships

Personality Tests, Behavioral Assessments, Journaling

Assessment Reports, Storytelling

Team Building, Time

In the API of You thought experiment, we proposed a private Professional Portfolio where you can gain a comprehensive view of your experiences, skills, and expertise.

Knowing yourself is a recursive process; also the first step in working well with others.

I’ve been building out a prototype based on that article. It’s illuminating.

First, I’m already benefiting. It makes writing proposals, speaker applications, etc. much faster and easier.

It also reveals patterns I should have recognized but never consciously acknowledged. I am not as I have claimed to be. Enlightening.

The API of You article also proposed that these portfolios should prepare us to form strong Working Team Agreements. Working Team Agreements document the effective processes adaptive teams use to rapidly ramp up performance.

When you join a new team, you should arrive prepared to quickly agree on when and where you work, communication standards, decision making, how you'll use AI, task allocation, feedback patterns, naming conventions, and more.

If you know what works best for you, you can advocate to include the processes that help you do your best work in your Working Team Agreement. 

If, on the other hand, you haven't thought much about it, you'll go along with whatever the group suggests. Bad news!

Working Team Agreements express more than good intentions. For many (me included!), these agreements hold contractual weight.

So, if you end up agreeing to a bad-for-you contract, you'll either find yourself struggling to do great work within the confines of the agreement, or ignoring the agreement (and breaking team trust!) so you can do great work. Either way, everyone loses.

That's why it's so important to think through and document your working style. Which leads to the next questions:

  • Where should you capture information about how you work?

  • How should you share it with your new team members?

What Exists: Personal User Manuals

Personal User Manuals (PUMs) are the most popular way I know of for documenting and sharing these details. I thought this must be the answer, and started building you a guide.

Personal User Manuals, defined

Personal User Manuals (also known as “Personal Operating Manuals”) are short descriptions of your background, values, and communication style. All team members should complete and exchange a Personal User Manual to help teammates better understand each other.

Personal User Manuals complement other tools, like team-level agreements, by providing a means for each person to explicitly communicate to their team how they work and what works best for them in a flexible environment.

What is a Personal User Manual? on Future Forum

PUMs gained popularity when Urs Hölzle, Google's 8th employee, published his "Guide to Urs." This guide told his team things like how to best communicate with him, not to take his brusque style personally, and how to pronounce his name. Since then, PUMs have spread across the tech world, attracting both strong advocates and detractors along the way.

That said, there's no industry standard for PUMs. Over the past weeks, I looked at 14 templates and dozens of examples to learn:

  1. What information do people collect and share?

  2. How do they share this information? What do PUMs look like?

  3. As an Adaptive Teaming tool, how well do most PUMs prepare you to quickly create Working Team Agreements?

Altogether, I found 128 questions in these manuals. They’re good! You should know your answers when preparing to join a new team.

After some analysis, I distilled the full set down to 22 questions organized into these categories:

  • Your Professional Journey, covering your background, goals, etc.

  • How You Like to Work: motivation, good & bad fit tasks, etc.

  • How You Prefer to Collaborate: communication, feedback, and other preferences

  • Understanding You Better: values, personality, quirks, etc

  • You Outside of Work: family, hobbies, and so on.

Supporting subscribers can find these questions, my research links, and our updated template in the download below. And, if you're actively in the midst of a career transition, do the exercises in André Martin's book Wrong Fit, Right Fit to take this to the next level!

I 100% absolutely recommend capturing your answers to these questions as part of your private Professional Portfolio over time, but I no longer think you need to publish them for others.

Adapting Personal User Manuals for Adaptive Teaming

Today, PUMs include everything you want other people to know about how you work.

As you can imagine, people have different ideas about what other people need to know, so there's a lot of variability. Some PUMs come across as apologetic, some boastful, and some include sparse bullet points published under obvious duress. Most public examples run two or three pages long, but others wax on much longer.

The best ones (PUMs) act as a commitment from the conscious leader to the team. They say, “this is what I commit to you; here is where I may sometimes fall short; how I intend to improve; and how I want you to help hold me accountable.”

When done poorly—and I’ve seen many destructive examples—they merely reinforce a fixed “my way or the highway” leadership style that forces others to bend to the manager’s way of working rather than opening a two-way dialog."

Ken Norton, executive coach

The Problems with Personal User Manuals for Adaptive Teaming

To make them adaptive-teaming-ready, we need to address three problems.

What you want your new team members to know is NOT the same as:

  1. The time they can spend learning about you,

  2. What they need or want to know to work with you now, or

  3. What you really do!

They can, in certain environments, be used to excuse certain counter-productive behaviours – so they should probably be done alongside a team charter or social contract. They can also be wrong: you may be tempted to write (even subconsciously) what you want other people to think about you, not what is true about you.

To address the problems with today's PUMs, we need to make the very important distinction between what you need to know about yourself vs what your team needs to know about you to make work go.

What a new team needs to know? Honestly, not much.

The Quickstart Guide contains only essential information from the PUM

It turns out that the only person who might need a user manual for working with you is... you.

(And possibly Bill Wither's girlfriend.)

Everyone else just wants the Quickstart Guide.


Know Yourself

Let Others Know How You Work

Work Well with Others

Identify Right-Fit Talent
(Find and Get Found)

Personal Brand Guides

Professional Portfolio: Experiences, Skills, Expertise, etc.

Bios, Resumes, Vanity Sites, Social Media, Speaking, Proposals, Job Applications, Networking, Pitching...

Hiring, Team Formation

Establish Effective Process

Prof. Portfolio:
Working Style

Personal User Manuals

NEW!! Quickstart Guide to Working with You

Working Team Agreements

Build Relationships

Personality Tests, Behavioral Assessments, Journaling

Assessment Reports, Storytelling

Team Building, Time

Exchange Quickstart Guides So Your New Team Can Start Quickly

Want to slow down team performance? Ask people to wade through pages of each other’s heavily sanitized details to learn everyone’s preferred working styles, then figure out how to adapt.

Speed up team performance by replacing the guesswork with clear expectations and agreed-upon processes documented in a Working Team Agreement.

As I read through dozens of public PUMs, I could see how they would shortcut the time it takes to get to know those folks better. From the outside, I get a gut feeling for compatibility, kind of like how a dating site helps folks filter through potential mates.

But that’s not what we need after the team comes together. At that point, we’re already shacking up. Now, we need a fast way to figure out how to coexist and get things done!

New teammates share their Quickstart Guides to create a Working Team Agreement

Your Quickstart Guide briefly communicates what new team members should know about you before you create a Working Team Agreement. 

What should your Quickstart Guide include?

That's up to you, as long as you keep it short and honest. Assume the group already knows your qualifications, because that’s part of the Team Formation process. Your Quickstart Guide acts like a movie spy dossier or that snippet of exposition used to introduce your character's strengths, quirks, and conditions in an epic team film.

OMG Epic supercut!!! This makes me ridiculously happy.

To get us started, here's a first draft template.

Template: Quickstart Guide to Working with You

Your Quickstart Guide should include the following:

  • How to Address You

  • Your Availability

  • When You Shine: Note the kind of work you love and that team members should send your way.

  • When You Struggle: The tasks that someone else should take, or where you'll need support.

  • Agreements You Care About: The two or three things you want the team to agree on.

  • How to Learn More About You: What folks should do if they have questions. Did you publish a Personal User Manual? Link to it here!

Notice: Every question here keeps the focus on how you work rather than on how you want other people to work. As an example, here's my first pass at a Quickstart Guide to Me.

Example: Quickstart Guide to Working with J. Elise Keith

Please call me Elise (eh-LEES) . My first name is Jennifer, but I don't use it.

Working Hours: 8 a.m. - 4 p.m. Pacific, Monday through Thursday. Flexible with advance notice.
Unavailable: April 16-30, May 25-30, June 10 -20, July 2-6

Good at: Initiative, idea integration, quick research, content creation, event planning/facilitation, rapid decision making, and engaging with the public and clients.

Not good at: routine, consistency, numbers, anything administrative, or waiting. I process quickly and have significant attention challenges, so I appreciate blunt support here.

Agreements I care most about:

  • Out-of-bounds: I won't knowingly contribute to projects intended to harm, malign, or deceive others.

  • Communication: I rely on clear notes and the calendar; if it's not in writing, there's a good chance I'll miss it. I take responsibility for tracking my work and appreciate clarity about how we share progress and the expected response times + reply formats for requests.
    I'm flexible about the specifics as long as I know what to expect.

  • Decision making: I prefer the advice process with set deadlines for feedback to avoid delays and uncertainty.

These agreements matter to me because I have a hard time staying focused. If I request feedback and don't hear back, I'll assume that people don’t have any and will push ahead so I can complete the work before I forget what I'm doing. I'm keen to prevent any misunderstandings or frustration this might cause.

Other questions? Just ask! I'm happy to share and not easily offended.

Like I said, it's a first draft, and I think it makes a decent start at solving the first two problems with the PUMs.

  1. It's short!

  2. It shifts the focus from knowing how you do your best work → to → letting others know how best to work with you.

The final challenge with PUMs?

Our tendency to buy our own baloney, then feed it to our team. 🥪 

Quickstart Guides Work Best When Honest

Your private Professional Portfolio can help here. Mine did.

When I reviewed the experiences logged in my portfolio for the past two years, I quickly saw where reality fell short of my baloney beliefs.

For example, I believed and would have told others that I'm highly productive!

At one level, that's true. Last year, I hosted 112 events (including a full conference), published 24 long articles, developed several prototypes and conceptual frameworks, jointly led a research experiment, overcame a bizarre injury, traveled, delivered projects for 6 enterprise clients, read 50 books, and knitted four sweaters. That's the view from inside my head, and it looks plenty productive to me.

BUT! (ah, damn, there’s a but!) I'm not consistently productive in a way that any one person might see.

Instead, I alternate between projects based on 1) whether there's a deadline and 2) what excites me at the moment. When I filter my experiences based on what other people experienced, it's clear that I underdelivered for some of them.

I need deadlines! Decades of productivity hacks and attempts to "get mean with myself!" haven't changed this pattern, so going forward, I need to stop promising reliable productivity and instead ensure the teams I work with either a) establish the structure I need to stay on track or b) set their expectations accordingly.

The Takeaway: Create a Quickstart Guide About You for Them

I used my Portfolio to reality-check my answers to the PUM questions, and then decide on the most important things to share in my Quickstart Guide. Handy! The data doesn't lie.

In case you haven’t been prototyping your Portfolio too, I imagine you can get similar results by bravely asking trusted colleagues about their experiences working with you.

Ask them:

  • What advice would you give others about working with me?

  • What did you find challenging about working with me at first? What do you wish you'd understood earlier?

  • What kind of work do you trust me to do well? When do you feel like you need to double-check me?

  • What do you like about working with me? What should I do more of in the future?

Then, get a final review from the colleague most likely to point it out when you have food in your teeth. 🥦 

Next Step: Putting Together a Team

So that was humbling! Let's wrap up by reconnecting with the larger goal.

Today, work changes rapidly, just as it has for several years. Perhaps we've reached the point where stating that work = rapid change is redundant.

Persistent change (aha! ponder that!) requires adaptability from both individual professionals and teams. When you create a private Professional Portfolio and Quickstart Guide to You, you become more adaptable. Both offer fresh strategies designed specifically for this new world of work.

Next up, we'll turn our attention to Working Team Agreements. You can tell I'm a HUGE fan. And - that's a process that could do with a bit of adaptation too.

Until then - I'm eager for your feedback!

Specifically: if every new team member you worked with handed you their Quickstart Guide, what would you want to know? 

Paid Supporters: Access a copy of my research on Personal User Manuals and instructions for crafting your own PUM + Quickstart Guide here.

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