How Do You Think? Getting the Most Out of People by Understanding Cognitive Styles

How Do You Think?  Getting the Most Out of People by Understanding Cognitive Styles

SP3Have you ever worked on a truly high-performing team? Not just worked in a group, but in a team that is firing on all cylinders, sharing ideas, communicating, resolving conflicts and finding solutions? If you have, then you know that high-performing teams are the key to business success, especially in the realm of new product development.

As Katzenbach and Smith wrote in their seminal work, The Discipline of Teams, “teams have four elements: common commitment and purpose, performance goals, complementary skills, and mutual accountability.” Interesting words: common, complementary and mutual.

The key to high-performing teams is people and how they think. Not just the people who lead these teams, but each and every member of the team. Putting together the team takes more than assembling a group of people with the right job responsibilities. It is the right combination of skills that matters. You need to evaluate the natural gifts and abilities, work ethic, and problem-solving styles of your potential team members. You need to find common, complementary and mutually-beneficial team members.

But why stop at Innovation Teams? When you think about it, you also need to select the right types of participants for your marketing research, matching their strengths with the output you need. If you want your group to generate solutions to a particular customer challenge, you need people who are equipped to do that. If you want participants s who can tell about the challenges of using your product or service, you need to get those people.

Over the course of providing our services for many different new product development teams in diverse industries, we have identified four general cognitive styles. All of these styles must be considered when you are putting together a team or selecting people for qualitative research. It is imperative that these types align with the specific activities required for them to perform at their highest competence and make their optimal contribution to the project.

First, the Storyteller. Did you know that there is a personality type that is hard-wired to sense and internalize customer needs? We refer to them as Storytellers, because they are the study participants and team members with high empathy and ability to vocalize needs. They can tell the stories that help other members of the team understand and relate to customer needs and requirements. They help remind the team of their common commitment and purpose.

Another cognitive style, the Implementer, is very process-driven and is the perfect choice to be the person keeping the internal team corralled and on task. Probably not the best style for a free-flowing ideation session, Implementers are important for maintaining focus on performance goals and making everyone accountable for meeting them. 

Problem Solvers are those individuals who are always driving to a solution. Their cognitive style is great for generating original ideas, and they help others in the group who may find brain-storming difficult by giving them ideas to develop further.

Finally, of course, we have Creatives. Similar to Problem Solvers, they are always generating new ideas and thoughts, often connecting seemingly disparate thoughts into novel solutions. While not as analytical as Problem Solvers, their blue-sky enthusiasm can bring energy and new ideas to any group or project.

Here are some ways that these styles contribute to the Innovation Team or qualitative research. If we need ideation, we want to make sure that each small group has multiple Creative and Problem Solvers. Together, these two types generate original ideas, giving others in the group a diverse platform of ideas to refine, remodel, and revise. During concept building and refinement, Problem Solvers are at their best. Problem Solvers excel at synthesizing ideas and will help bring others along.

Ideally, at the beginning of an innovation assignment, you can test your project team for their individual cognitive styles. This testing gives team leaders insight on how best to leverage each team member throughout the process. If each person knows his or her style and the full team understands how they can best bring their skills and experiences together, they can help create a cohesive, high-performing team.

Similarly, you can test your qualitative research participants and screen them for the requisite skills and abilities, increasing your probability of getting the kind of insights you need.

Whether you are pulling together an Innovation Team or participants for a qualitative research project, understanding individual cognitive styles can make the difference in achieving an excellent team experience with superior business results. To increase your chances of success, give team member and study participants style a little thought – and make sure you assign them the tasks they are best suited to accomplish.


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