Is your team driving you nuts? Do you ever feel like they are conspiring to purposefully mess with your head when you are trying to set a direction? Have you ever had the situation where you had to get a project team to agree, conceptually, with a project direction? Some of the team members will go along with the conversation – giving their input as you go. Others focus on the details of ‘how’ things will be done. If you are responsible for getting a consensus, and aren’t getting it – you may begin to get frustrated. You begin speaking louder or more slowly. At worst, you may begin to believe that the ‘how’ individuals are slow, or are stubborn and purposely trying to derail the decision. As a last resort, you may try explaining the situation again – ‘Remember everyone, the goal is not to design the entire process (the how), just agree on the general direction (the what).’
If you still can’t get a consensus, the behaviors can become very damaging. The ‘how’ individuals may be told to ‘be quiet and just row’. They, in turn, may give up providing input and just withdraw. Assumptions continue to be made, on both sides, about intent and motivation – usually heavily skewed to the negative. The truth is, the differences have little to do with intent – the differences have to do with the way a person takes in, and processes, information. This is one of the largest challenges on a project team – the difference in thinking style between the individuals. It is not a comment on someone’s character; it is not wrong or right – just different.
It is a continuum of thinking styles with people across the entire range. At the extremes, there are two thinking styles – auditory-sequential or visual-spatial. Auditory-sequential thinkers approach information like steps along a path. The overall picture, or the context, may be of no interest to them. It is irrelevant information and can be overwhelming at times. Their focus is on the steps in the chain to get the task accomplished. These individuals love the tactical side of a project. They are your ‘go-to’ people for project execution.
Visual-spatial thinkers approach information from general to specific or from the whole to the individual pieces. First, they have to understand the overall picture, or context, to see how everything fits together – then, they can move on to the specifics. These individuals love the strategic side of a project. They are your ‘go-to’ people for contingency planning when issues come up during the project.
The Gifted Development Center in Denver, CO has a entire section of their website dedicated to understanding these thinking styles. Check out this list of characteristics to see where you lean – (http://visualspatial.org/vslasl.php
Neither type of thinker is good or bad, just different. And, you need both types on a project team to provide the complete project plan and execution. You need the auditory-sequential thinker to ensure that the project steps are detailed and executed according to the plan (time and cost). You need the visual-spatial thinkers to ensure that the project plan is connected to, and delivers, the ‘right’ business results – especially when the obstacles come up.
So, the next time that you are recruiting a project team – consider thinking style as part of the criteria for the team members. Once your team is recruited, consciously accommodate both styles. Provide the overall context, goals, and direction for the project, AND answer the ‘how-to’ questions that will also come up. Learn, and practice, communicating across both types of thinking. A blend of auditory-sequential and visual-spatial thinkers – while challenging – always yields the best project delivery.
Let us know about your changes and how we can support you in optimizing your team’s differences in thinking styles.