Do Great Minds Think Alike? Hopefully Not on Our Team
What Are Thinking Preferences?
The concept of thinking preferences stems from the left brain/right brain dominance theory that each side of the brain controls different types of thinking. People tend to naturally prefer one type of thinking over another, and these preferences are often described as left- or right-brain dominance. Most people dominantly use either the left or right hemisphere, but a few have mixed dominance.
A person who is "left-brained" is typically described as being more logical, analytical, and objective, whereas someone who is "right-brained" is said to be more intuitive, thoughtful, and subjective. According to Dr. Kobus Neethling and Dr. Paul Torrance, developers of the Neethling Brain Instruments, a person’s unique combination of thinking preferences has important implications for how they lead, communicate, relate to others, and work in teams.
How Important Is It for a Team to Understand Each Other’s Thinking Styles?
People naturally tend to assume that others think like them, and people with different styles of thinking often do not understand or value one another. If taken personally, differing perspectives can lead to conflict and arguments on teams. Gaining a better understanding of yourself and others feeds toward acceptance of differences and greater team effectiveness.
The Value of Heterogeneity in Thinking on Teams
A team dominated by one particular thinking style may function efficiently, but the similarity in thinking limits the team’s approach to problems or opportunities. Brain research examining optimal team functioning indicates that a team will be much more creative when it is varied in terms of left- and right-brain dominance and gender-balanced.
Team members who are left-brain dominant will help the team get down to business by defining the goals and objectives; keeping the group moving toward the goal; applying logical problem-solving skills; and working toward measurable outcomes. Those who are right-brained will bring the relational piece by mediating, facilitating discussion, and helping the team build relationships. They will also bring strategic, future-oriented thinking; connect concepts; generate out-of-the-box ideas; and offer a big picture perspective (Herrmann Solutions). When we have teams with adequate representation of each type of thinking (i.e., whole brain thinking), it can offer a competitive advantage and unlock great potential for the team.
A Look at Our Team
At Impact, we strive to “walk our talk” and to be transparent about our own growth and challenges. Those who have worked with us also know that we strongly believe in the value of assessment. So, we recently took a look at our own team’s collective “brain” by taking the Herrmann Brain Dominance Instrument (HBDI) and then holding a team debrief discussion of results. We each received our individual results and a team report about our collective “brain.”
I found my individual results to be spot on, and I also gained greater awareness and understanding of the similarities and personal differences within our team. We found that the majority of us are right-brain dominant, and one person’s results showed good balance overall for left- and right-brain thinking. Three of the right-brain thinkers have strong preferences for areas associated with experimenting, which includes thinking holistically, integrating, synthesizing and intuiting. Whereas another right-brainer’s strongest preferences were associated with being relational, expressive, and kinesthetic. As a whole, our team had intermediate preferences for use of the left-brain areas that drive practical thinking—planning, organization, and detail—and a low preference for analytical thinking.
A main takeaway from the experience for me was increased recognition of our personal differences within the team and the important role that they play in our success. I think we each gained a better understanding of each other, increased tolerance for our differences, and awareness of the ways that we balance and can build on one another’s thoughts and ideas. It was also visually clear to us that our team is weaker in left-brain thinking. Although we are all capable of this type of thinking, it is a weaker team preference. Acknowledging this about our team is motivating us to seek out ways to increase the left-/right-brain balance of our team going forward.
When I looked into ways to create new processes and encourage new behaviors on our team, I found practical tips in an HBR article by Dorothy Leonard and Susaan Straus, entitled “Putting Your Company’s Whole Brain to Work,” that hold promise. I am briefly sharing them here in the spirit of paying it forward to our readers! (For those who are interested, the full article can be accessed by clicking on the article title above.)
Strategies to Improve Whole Brain Thinking on the Team
- First understand yourself—Knowing your own style gives insight into the ways your preferences shape your leadership style of leadership and communication patterns. If you want an innovative organization, you need to hire and work with people who are not like you. Doing so can complement your weaknesses and exploit your strengths.
- Forget the golden rule—Don’t treat people the way you want to be treated. Regardless of how you would personally prefer to deliver a message, you will be more persuasive and better understood if you formulate messages to appeal to the particular thinking styles of your listener.
- Create “whole-brained” teams—Adopt a variety of approaches to solving a problem, using not just the right brain or the left brain but the “whole” brain.
- Look for the ugly duckling—If your team is uniformly heavy on one type of thinking, look to other places in the organization to identify and incorporate people who think differently than the norm on the team (i.e., embrace the outliers or “counterculture” in the organization).
- Manage the creative process—Team leaders should manage in a way that ensures that everyone in the group is talking and that individual differences are seen as valued and respected. Shared goals, operating agreements, structuring meetings to allow adequate time for both divergent and convergent discussion can be helpful tools.
- Depersonalize conflict—Help team members gain an understanding of different thinking and communication styles, along with the realization that one is not better or worse than another. Team members can then better recognize the inherent value of different perspectives, can build on one another’s ideas and disagreements can be viewed as intellectual debates instead of personal assaults.