What’s your thinking style? Just like we have personality preferences for introversion and extroversion, we also have preferred ways of thinking about problems.
Typically, we handle problems in a tried and true way that we’re comfortable with. We don’t even know we have a thinking style because it’s just who we are, yet we do have different ways of thinking. In fact, we may have six or seven different styles of seeking a decision.
Understanding how you think and how your teammates think could be essential for groups who must work together effectively. When you consider successful teams–though they are measured by what they produce–they function better when they have diverse thinking styles.
Research shows that it is ultimately how teams think together that most determines their performance. Instead of assigning groups based on personality traits, skills and strengths, managers might want to evaluate how potential members think.
What Is a Thinking Style?
According to Pearson Assessments, thinking styles are positive habits that contribute to better critical thinking, problem-solving and decision-making. While no one thinking style is better than another, a balance of the various types results in better decision-making. Their online self-assessment measures how individuals use seven different approaches to thinking:
ThinkWatson has a self-assessment you can take for free. Knowing your preferred style will help you approach problems and decisions with the right mindset. Which of these best describes your habitual thinking style?
6 Thinking Hats
Another expert, Edward De Bono, describes thinking styles in terms of six colored hats. With the concepts of Professor De Bono published in Six Thinking Hats, you explore six different views of a problem by putting on an imaginary hat for each perspective.
This method helps you explore a problem more robustly to get unstuck from your habitual style of thinking. It’s a powerful way for teams to look at different angles of the problem. The metaphor of different thinking hats helps people explore alternative or even competing views.
The six thinking hats of De Bono are:
It’s easy to change hats – at least metaphorically and temporarily. The experience can alter our views dramatically. Here are some key benefits:
What color is your hat?
Two-Dimensional Thinking Patterns
The way we approach problems and make decisions is complex, perhaps more so than simply identifying with six or seven distinct styles. There’s an interesting article about this from Harvard Business Review, November 25, 2015: “What Kind of Thinker Are You?” by Mark Bonchek and Elisa Steele.
“… in today’s marketplace, the smartest companies aren’t those that necessarily out-produce the competition. Instead, it’s the organizations that outthink them. And while there are plenty of tools that help us quickly understand what our teammates do, it’s harder to tell how they think. ~ Mark Bonchek and Elisa Steele
Only one aspect of collaboration is getting people aligned in what they do; the other is getting them aligned in how they think. After a lot of co-creation and trial and error, the authors, Bonchek and Steele, developed a three-step method for identifying thinking styles that delivers practical and meaningful results.
For example, on the big picture, or macro, orientation:
Across the micro, or detail, orientation:
It makes sense that if we are going to form a team that works well together, we should ensure diversity in thinking while paying attention to alignment of purpose. According to the authors:
As a real-world demonstration, one company had their entire leadership team identify their thinking styles as managers and leaders. Looking at a heat map of the results, they realized they had a lot of big-picture Explorer thinking and a lot of Action thinking (Energizer and Producer), but very little Process thinking (Planner and Optimizer). The team was strong at coming up with big ideas and mobilizing everyone into action, but weak at working out the details and making things run efficiently.
Whether or not we can precisely define thinking style is not the point. When working in corporations with people who need to collaborate effectively, we benefit greatly when we raise our awareness of thinking styles. That in itself will help us understand ourselves and others better.
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