The purpose of this resource is to describe the different types of work that we become engaged in when carrying out any role.

There are two major challenges affecting peoples’ work:

  1. Consistent communication about work which describes accurately what is expected
  2. The constant process of change to improve efficiency and develop flexibility

Work out defines the different types of work that are described with separate icons.

“As the complexity of work continues to grow we need to use the same language about work and avoid misunderstandings.”

The main types of work are:

  1. Tasks or activities
  2. Individual choice or decisions
  3. Collaborative work
  4. Finding out data or information from others
  5. Producing documents or records



There are others which we have developed with Belbin Associates and are described in our “Work Role Guide” which you can obtain by contacting us.

1) Tasks or Activities:

Work that is completed to a standard is called a task.  The characteristics of this work are:

  • Follows methods exactly
  • Is structured
  • Allows no opportunity for creativity or deviation
  • Ensures a fixed result

On our diagram, this is described by a rectangle; people in the past who focused on this type of work were sometimes called “blue collar workers”, but now we are all involved with routine and skilled tasks that must be completed to a standard.


People who are task orientated feel secure in the knowledge that they are completing the activity in the agreed way.

2) Individual Choice or Decision Making:

This is work that means taking responsibility: it involves thinking about a choice and making a decision:

  • It is designed to be open-ended, inviting the role holder to be decisive in choosing the best way of achieving the result
  • The results depends on the choices made by the individual

On process charts, this is described by a diamond.  It shows that the process can go in different directions after a choice. A choice is always a yes or no question.


People who are assigned this type of work are expected to demonstrate responsibility.

People who excel in personal responsibility are decisive and prefer to work independently. They enjoy planning and thinking things through and do not to be told what to do.

3) Collaborative Work or Shared Decision Making:

This work is called collaborative work and is normally defined by shared objectives:

  • It involves joint accountability and is an increasingly important part of people’s working day.
  • It is unstructured and achieved through group discussion and shared decision making
  • Requires input from all members; each are given equal status
  • Results are varied but will be a collaboration and a compromise of all ideas and for which the team will be collectively responsible

Some are attracted to the social aspect of collaborative work, whereas others may find the compromise restricting and prefer working alone.

Collaborative work is like an elongated decision making process as more people are involved.  It often has a dotted line thorough it to signify the responsibility is shared with other people or teams. It is rarely seen on process charts.


Too often when people are engaged in meetings they are happy to share information but do not buy into the outcome.  They do not feel that shared responsibility outside the forum.  This is not collaborative work.

4) Interactive Work:

Interactive work is becoming increasingly important with the need to engage with other people, understand different perspectives and become more inclusive. It is what contributes to bringing out the diversity of a team.

This work is normally defined by communication standards:  It

  • Requires communication with others to achieve the result
  • Methods depend on information to be received
  • Results will differ, depending on social factors e.g. relationships

Some may find the social contact more appealing, whereas others may be frustrated at having to wait for and rely on, outside information to complete the work.


Interaction analysis has been a common way of understanding the effectiveness of this type of work for over 50 years

5) Documents or Guidance:

Team members also engage in work that is not talked about:

  • Looking up a requirement
  • Conforming to a policy
  • Providing a guidance


This occasionally appears on our policies or process charts: sometimes a customer   may want you to refer to a document and sometimes a colleague might prepare instructions on how you might want to handle a specific situation. The symbol we use is shown to the right.

Documents contain the information needed to complete an activity: you’re commitment to meeting others needs depends on your attitude to this grey area: misunderstand the guidance or records needed and you will fail to meet expectations.

Examples of documents include customer specifications, job descriptions, or training guidelines: this guide is itself an example of an input document. The document will always link to the activity it provides information for.


People, who excel in this work, use guidance where necessary and are good at keeping records.


Understanding what is expected at work will avoid letting colleagues and family down. Below is a chart which shows the different types of work when arranging a meal out with the family. Each part must be communicated accurately if we are to have a quality evening and no misunderstandings!


When at the receiving end of these different types of work, people respond in different ways, (some may have enjoyed the task, for example, whereas others may not). You will also respond differently to this guide! Our approach to managing work request can be found here.

When you are giving away work equally you will respond in different ways: our research has shown that you will focus on work that interests and often forget about work that doesn’t interest you. You can find out more about how we do this here.

Sometimes we want to map out a process which describes the way we handle a particular type of work like cost management or product launch. We have been using this approach to work management for over 20 years on hundreds of different processes.

“The purpose of defining work is to help us be more consistent about work expectations.”