Welcome to Thinking Styles

Our next topic is Thinking Styles.

While there are plenty of tools to help understand personalities, it’s harder to gain insight into how we think and collaborate. Thinking Styles are a simple and effective tool to accelerate collaboration and enhance individual and team performance. Don’t just out-produce the competition—outthink them.

What are Thinking Styles?

A simple and effective tool to accelerate collaboration and enhance individual, relational and team performance. 

While there are plenty of tools to help understand personalities, it’s harder to gain insight into how we think and collaborate.

The Thinking Styles approach was developed by Mark Bonchek and Elisa Steele. It offers a simple, intuitive alternative to assessment tools like DISC and Myers-Briggs, which can be complex, time-consuming and expensive, and which focus on personality rather than cognition and collaboration.

Thinking Styles can help teams move more quickly from “forming, storming and norming” to peak performance. Understanding our own and others’ styles accelerates collaboration, increases engagement, generates contribution and improves team performance. 

Understand Thinking Styles

People tend to focus on ideas, process, action or relationships, and to be oriented towards the big picture or details.

The premise is that people tend to have a typical area of focus on Ideas, Process, Action or Relationships, along with an orientation towards the big picture (macro) or details (micro). 

These eight styles are fluid and change in different settings. But most people have dominant styles, just as they are either left- or right-handed.

For those with a big picture (macro) orientation:

  • Explorer thinking is about generating
    creative ideas.

  • Planner thinking is about designing
    effective systems.

  • Energizer thinking is about mobilizing people into action.

  • Connector thinking is about building and strengthening relationships.

For those with a detail (micro) orientation:

  • Expert thinking is about achieving objectivity and insight.

  • Optimizer thinking is about improving productivity and efficiency.

  • Producer thinking is about achieving completion and momentum.

  • Coach thinking is about cultivating people and potential.

 

Thinking Styles: Not the same as roles

Your thinking style is not your job description.

We normally think of roles as being about what people do, such as team leader, project manager, or researcher. When you need a decision, you go to the team leader. When you want a status update, you go to the project manager. When you need something investigated, you go to the researcher.

It’s important to keep Thinking Styles mentally separate from roles. While certain Thinking Styles may tend to be drawn to certain roles, different Thinking Styles can and do succeed in the same role. A range of Thinking Styles is helpful across all roles. 

Just as team members have assigned doing roles, teams also need to make sure that all thinking roles are covered. By knowing how other members of
your team and organization think—and by others knowing how you think—everyone can be more energized, more engaged, more creative and
more productive.

Put Thinking Styles to work

Thinking Styles are useful for individuals and groups.

  • Individuals find it helpful to understand their own Thinking Style so they can see how to leverage their strengths and focus their development efforts. People are naturally energized when their work aligns to their Thinking Style and feel empowered when they learn to master an unfamiliar style. 

  • On teams, a “heat map” of Thinking Styles can show where the team is over- or under-represented relative to the goals and objectives. Oftentimes, team function suffers not because of who is in the team, but who is not. The distribution of Thinking Styles reveals what’s missing so the team can compensate or bring in complementary resources.

 

Exercise: What’s your Thinking Style?

When you know your Thinking Style, you know what naturally energizes you, why certain types of problems are challenging or boring, and what you can do to improve in areas that are important to reaching your goals.

Once you know your style, it helps to share it with others, and to have others share theirs with you. In this way, your Thinking Style becomes a useful tool—a kind of social currency—for the team. 

Exercise: See yourself as others see you

Much as we may hate to admit it, we’re not always the best judge of our own abilities. If you’re having a tough time getting clear on your primary Thinking Style, it can be helpful to turn to your colleagues for their perspectives.

“Any time a trait is easy to observe or hard to admit, you need other people to hold up a mirror for you….You need people who are motivated to see you accurately. And I’ve come to believe that more often than not, those people are your colleagues.”  
— -Adam Grant, “People Don’t Really Know Themselves Very Well,” The Atlantic, March 2018

Ask a few colleagues which Thinking Style they think best describes you, and why. Remember that it may or may not be a style that seems directly related to your role. You can use their response as a springboard for discussion about your respective Thinking Styles, and how they resonate or complement each other.

Explore Thinking Styles

To maximize productivity, find your genius zones

 

Exercise: Rank your Thinking Styles

To assess how you relate with the different Thinking Styles, you can rank them along an axis of competence, from Genius at one end to Need Support at the other. Think about this axis in terms of how much return is generated by your efforts. 

When you’re using the Thinking Styles that are in your “genius zones,” you’re getting the biggest return on your efforts. Ideally, these should be the Thinking Styles you use most in your day-to-day work. To assess your Thinking Styles, place them in order along this axis.

Need Support: Put in $100 of effort, get $1 of results

Competent: Put in $10 of effort, get $10 of results

Genius: Put in $1 of effort, get $100 of results

 
need to genius spectrum.png

Get the Right Mix on Your Team

Build teams based on how people think, not just what they do

Imagine you’re putting together a team to work on a new initiative. Wouldn’t you like to know who’s energized by big-picture strategy discussions and who finds them frustrating, who likes to work on executional details and who is energized by managing team dynamics?

Innovation takes teams of diverse and complementary thinkers.

Normally we think about building teams based on what people do. We select for skills and assign tasks and responsibilities. It’s a mental model that comes from teams. We put everyone in the right position. 

But we can also design teams based on how people think.

Leaders are responsible for creating the right mix of Thinking Styles. Like an orchestra conductor, the leader chooses which style comes to the fore at a particular point in time to carry the tune. 

Put too much focus on big picture thinking and the details won’t get done. Give too much emphasis on action and process thinking, and you will lose the vision or drop out trust and connection.

Thinking Styles and project lifecycles

Most teams need every kind of Thinking Style at one point or another.

In the beginning of the project, Explorers and Planners are helpful to set the strategy and structure the work effort. Then Connectors and Energizers take the lead to create the vision, access resources, and enroll the stakeholders. As strategy and planning give way to execution and operations, those with a more micro orientation take the lead. 

Experts and Optimizers work together to work out the details and find the efficiencies. Meanwhile, Producers execute the plan and cross things off the list, while Coaches keep everyone engaged and performing at their best. 

 

Exercise: Thinking Styles and project lifecycles

Think of the lifecycle of a recent project. How do you imagine the Thinking Styles of the project team may have impacted
the experience?

 
timeilne.png
 

Thinking Styles and the Seasons of Innovation

Different Thinking Styles take the lead in each season of innovation. 

Innovation moves through a lifecycle that includes idea, launch, scaling and completion. These phases can be mapped onto the farming activities of the four seasons: planting seeds, helping them take root, harvesting crops, and plowing the ground to prepare for the next planting. 

Each season of innovation requires different tools, skills and strategies—and a different mix of Thinking Styles.

 

Exercise: Thinking Styles for the Seasons 

What types of thinkers are currently engaged in each Season of Innovation in your teams? 

Where might efforts need to be added or repurposed?

Have your team take the quiz, then map their responses.

You can print out the page and write names or use sticky notes. 


Thinking Styles recap

Thinking Styles are a simple and effective tool to accelerate collaboration and enhance individual, relational and team performance.

People tend to focus on ideas, process, action or relationships, and to be oriented towards the big picture or details.

Your Thinking Style is not your job description.

Thinking Styles are useful for individuals, relationships and groups.

To maximize productivity, find your genius zones:

  • Explorer thinking is about generating
    creative ideas.

  • Planner thinking is about designing
    effective systems.

  • Energizer thinking is about mobilizing people
    into action.

  • Connector thinking is about building and strengthening relationships.

  • Expert thinking is about achieving objectivity
    and insight.

  • Optimizer thinking is about improving productivity and efficiency.

  • Producer thinking is about achieving completion and momentum.

  • Coach thinking is about cultivating people
    and potential 

 

Up Next:

jeffrey-lin-652888-unsplash Shift Essentials Web Shift.jpg

Our next topic is about making the shift from 10% to 10X thinking.

Go deeper

Read the article that started it all: What Kind of Thinker Are You?

Watch a presentation by Mark Bonchek: What’s Your Workplace Thinking Style?

Practice

  • Think about your quiz results. Did they match your sense of yourself? If not, which Thinking Style do you feel most affinity with?

  • Do you think certain Thinking Styles are over- or under-represented on your team?

Share with others

  • If you find this guidebook helpful, please share it with colleagues.

  • We always welcome your questions and feedback. Please click here to share your thoughts.