In the business world, much of our work is organized around teams. Whether you’re developing a new product, managing a production line, or driving a sales effort, teamwork is key to getting things done.
And expectations for teams have never been higher. In today’s hyper-competitive environment, innovation, speed, and agility are required to win in the marketplace. To succeed under these conditions, team leaders must challenge the assumptions that have long governed how a business operates and how teams are organized to do their work.
Team members are typically recruited based on relevant skills, experiences, and attitudes. We seek subject-matter experts with proven track records and interpersonal skills that enable them to contribute and collaborate to solve a particular problem or seize an opportunity. Simply put, we look for “team players” who know their stuff and go along to get along.
Skills, experience, and attitude are important factors in selecting the right team members, but they are not the whole story. Developing innovative solutions requires looking at problems and opportunities from different angles. To do this, teams need to be composed of members with a variety of thinking styles and diverse skill sets and experiences.
Your “individual thinking style” is how you prefer to gather and process information. Businesses use a number of personality-profiling tools to identify the different ways people think and solve problems, including the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, Hogan assessments, and the Six Thinking Hats. At Kimberly-Clark, we’ve defined for our purposes eight original thinking styles, which cluster in four groups:
- Visionaries: Dreamers and Inventors who love to create and pursue big, new ideas
- Builders: Analyzers and Makers who enjoy problem-solving and understanding how things work
- Connectors: Adaptors who enjoy exploring every side of an issue and Muses who inspire others to do their best work
- Challengers: Nonconformists who think outside the box and Disruptors who like to throw convention out the window
No one thinking style is better than another, and each of these personalities has a role to play on a successful team. Visionaries can set an inspiring, audacious goal; Builders can map the processes necessary to achieve it; Connectors can link the capabilities and people needed to deliver on it; and Challengers can break down the barriers that get in the way.
Mixing different personalities in a work group can guard against groupthink, a situation in which team members become so similar in outlook that they lose their capacity for creative thinking. Too much emphasis on reaching consensus and avoiding conflict can stifle the creative debate that yields genuine insight and innovation.
Each of us has a natural tendency to gravitate toward people who think like us. It is often more comfortable to associate with people who share our approach to life than it is to deal with different personalities. For example, an Inventor who likes to freewheel new concepts may feel frustrated working with an Analyzer who prefers to take a deep dive into the data. By understanding and valuing one another’s original thinking styles, these very different personalities can blend their strengths, marrying the Visionary’s creative idea with the Builder’s disciplined execution to deliver bottom-line results.
How can you leverage original thinking to create breakthrough ideas and winning strategies? Here are a few tips to build your team’s creativity and effectiveness:
- At your next team meeting, discuss individual thinking styles. Talk about how they differ, how they complement each other, and the implications for how the team does its work.
- Use a personality quiz, such as the Original Thinkers Quiz, as an ice breaker to get the discussion rolling. Participants can use the quiz to identify their own thinking types and those of their teammates.
- Set ground rules for meetings to ensure different thinkers are heard and different thinking styles are respected and valued.
- Explore brainstorming tools like the IdeaStorm method, which helps teams break creative barriers and identify fresh solutions by using different original thinking styles for short bursts of time.
Understanding and valuing the different personalities within a team can help facilitate positive working relationships and better results. Building a dream team of diverse original thinkers can help your organization optimize talent, foster productive discussion that drives innovation, and create richer, more powerful solutions.
Beth Demko is a senior talent management consultant and industrial/organizational psychologist at Kimberly-Clark.