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Synchrony Preference: Why Some People Go with the Flow, and Some Don’t

Some people work quickly. Some don’t. Some hate interruptions. Others welcome them. Management Professor Abbie Shipp has a way to measure your willingness to adapt your pace to your team. 

February 03,  2016

By Elaine Cole

When a teammate wants to slow down on a project, do you gladly slow your progress, or do you resent not working at your faster pace?

If a teammate wants to go faster than you, do you make every effort to adjust your speed, or do you ignore the request and continue at your own comfortable pace?

Whether you know it or not, you have a preferred way of working with your time and a willingness (or not) to adapt your speed to the speed of others. It’s called synchrony preference, and Abbie Shipp, management professor at the TCU Neeley School of Business, has researched and developed a tool to measure it, to help teams predict success.

“Traditionally, workplace time was based on how well people followed schedules and met deadlines, but as the pace of work has gotten faster, projects more complex and deadlines less predictable, success depends on the ability to adapt,” said Shipp, who has authored two books on time in the workplace: Time and Work, Volume 1: How Time Impacts Individuals and Time and Work, Volume 2: How Time Impacts Groups, Organizations and Methods.

Knowing synchrony preference helps companies, teams, supervisors, hirers and employees. 

Optimal Team Makeup
Supervisors can use the synchrony preference tool to identify synchrony types, which helps them choose team members to assure the optimal balance of high synchrony.

“People with high synchrony prefer affiliation and openness. They are proficient multitaskers, and they tend to be focused on the present moment,” Shipp said.

By assuring that a team is made up of a larger percentage of high synchrony people, these desirable individual traits become overall characteristics of the team.

“For professionals to be successful in the rapidly changing business environment, they must be able to build ideas off of each other, adjust for changes and turnarounds, and work interdependently to facilitate the best outcomes for the project and the organization,” Shipp said.  

Synchrony Strategies
When employees learn about their preferred style of working, as well as their coworkers’ preferences, they can develop strategies to improve or compensate for those styles.

“Progress on projects isn’t straightforward, and teammates don’t work in a vacuum,” Shipp said. “Progress includes interruptions and adjustments to coordinate with your team. The better people understand synchrony preferences – their own and others’ – the better they can work together.”

Hiring and Promotions
Human resources can use the synchrony preference tool to hire people with high synchrony preference to leadership roles, and help employees who have been promoted to leadership roles. 

A leader must be able to manage team processes effectively, which includes meeting the time demands placed on a group or organization. A leader with high synchrony preference is better able to take into account people’s temporal needs, preference or constraints when assigning responsibilities.

Synchrony preference also may be a critical tool to help new leaders who have been recently promoted from an individual contributor role.

“After being rewarded for individualistic efforts, they may have difficulty transitioning into leadership roles where accommodation and synchronization are required,” Shipp said. “These transitions are easier for people naturally high on synchrony preference, but developmental programs can help those who are low in synchrony preference as they transition into leadership roles.”

“Synchrony Preference: Why Some People Go With The Flow And Some Don’t.” S. Leroy, A. Shipp, S. Blount, J. Licht. Personnel Psychology. 2015