The best person for the team may not be the best person for the team

The diverse team

The project managers were always fighting to get the best people in the company on their teams. Yet, often this resulted in dysfunctional teams. Why? Many of these power teams consisted of all bosses and no workers. That’s an extreme example, but it points up the importance of bringing a diversity of experience and thinking style to a team.

Sallie Krawcheck

in her blog calls diversity “The Secret to Putting Together an Insanely Successful Team.”

Paul B. Brown, on his Forbes blog, says “Great Minds Think Alike…And That Is Exactly The Problem.”

We naturally want the best people on our teams. We naturally want people who think like us. Yet, rather than bring in one more excellent team member just like the others, the team will grow with a member who asks the questions that nobody else is asking and provides insights that no one else has seen.

This is true in individual and family decision making as well. I recently ran a workshop that included the Six Thinking Hats. One of the participants later told me that it helped her understand why her husband was often so negative—he was providing the black hat perspective, the important consideration of risks and issues. She was more comfortable in the optimistic yellow hat and had been annoyed with him for shooting her down. Now she realized that they probably made better decisions as a couple because of the varied thinking styles.

What is your experience?


Will these silly hats really help me make decisions?

Not Another One!In an earlier post I described Edward DeBono’s Six Thinking Hats. This is a technique to help you adopt a variety of thinking styles for better decisions, individually or in groups. The white hat represents logic and information, the red hat is emotion and intuition, the black hat is risks and problems, the yellow hat is benefits and opportunities, the green hat is creativity, and the blue hat is process and management.

I ran a workshop over the weekend with an exercise based on the hats. I use real hats because it helps people take on unfamiliar thinking styles (and it’s fun). If you’re an upbeat person you’ll have a hard time getting into the critical mood of the black hat, and it helps to have a costume to put on to help you play the bad guy. I had them wearing different hats so that they could experience the various viewpoints at once, get a feel for them, and incorporate them into their own bag of thinking tricks.

One unexpected outcome was that that several participants said it helped to understand the others and to accept their viewpoints. One woman said that it helped her understand her “black hat” husband and value his devil’s advocate positions, which had always felt like a put-down.

It turns out that the six hats can help you through each of the seven steps of making a decision. Here’s how.

1. Mission: Discover the question to be asked
• White: What does the current data show to be the major issue or need?
• Red: Is there an issue pulling on me emotionally?
• Black: What makes me dissatisfied?
• Yellow: Is there an opportunity?
• Green: Are there new goals I haven’t considered?
• Blue: Let’s schedule a meeting to discuss this.

2. End-time: Set a deadline to reach a decision and to act
• White: What information do we need?
• Red: How much time does this deserve?
• Black: What is the cost of delay?
• Yellow: What is the benefit of a speedy decision?
• Green: Is there a clever, quick way to decide this?
• Blue: I’m putting the deadline on my calendar and I’m going to take action on that date.

3. Goals: Identify the full range of goals, needs, and constraints
• White: What are the stated requirements? Why? Why? Why?
• Red: What does success feel like?
• Black: What do I want to avoid?
• Yellow: What do I want to happen?
• Green: Imagine perfect success.
• Blue: Write down all the goals and constraints.

4. Alternatives: Identify the full range of options
• White: Are there alternatives we already know about?
• Red: What does intuition tell us to add?
• Black: Do we need some alternatives to avoid problems?
• Yellow: Do opportunities suggest other alternatives?
• Green: What other alternatives might we consider?
• Blue: List all the alternatives without evaluation.

5. Visualization: Visualize the consequences of each alternative
• White: What does the analysis show?
• Red: How would I subjectively rate each alternative against each goal?
• Black: What’s the worst that could happen?
• Yellow: What’s the best that could happen?
• Green: What are some alternative futures?
• Blue: Keep track of the results in a grid.

6. Insight: Choose the best alternative
• White: Analyze the results grid
• Red: How do I feel about the alternatives?
• Black: Assess each alternative in terms of risk
• Yellow: Assess each alternative in terms of payoff
• Green: Have we missed anything?
• Blue: Document the conclusion.

7. Make it happen: Act on your decision
• White: The decision is made. Let’s do it.
• Red: It feels right. Let’s do it.
• Black: We don’t want to drag it out. Let’s do it.
• Yellow: Things will be better once we take action. Let’s do it.
• Green: Change is good. Let’s do it.
• Blue: We’ve been through all the steps. Let’s do it.

Have you used Six Thinking Hats? What was your experience?

What color hat are you wearing right now?

six hatsYou happen to walk into one of my classes and find a roomful of managers wearing silly hats in a variety of colors. What’s going on here?

Edward DeBono developed Six Thinking Hats  as a technique to give decision-makers a rich repertoire of techniques for thinking about a problem. I’ve found this to be a great help to trigger multiple ways of looking at a question. It’s a way to remind me that I need both intuition and information, both positive and skeptical outlooks. We each tend to favor one of these thinking styles. Here they are. Which hat do you wear most often?

White—information. Consider the facts and information available.

Red—emotion. Consider the gut, intuitive response to the alternatives without justification.

Black—pessimism. Identify reasons to be cautious, potential problems.

Yellow—optimism. Identify benefits and opportunities.

Green—creativity. Seek ideas beyond the usual or obvious.

Blue—process. Facilitate the discussion, note conclusions and action items.

I’ve done quick group decision exercises in which each group is given a set of actual hats and each of the members is to put on a hat and view the problem from that perspective, then switch hats. Hence the roomful of managers wearing colored hats, even the silly green party hat (Get in touch with your inner child!). Interestingly, I noticed that actually wearing the hat made it easier for the participants to take on the roles. It’s easier to criticize your friends when you’re wearing the bad-guy black hat. But you don’t need actual hats to take on each thinking style.

For the most robust decisions, you’ll want a team of people representing all thinking styles. The problem that arises in a group, though, is that people who are working earnestly on a common problem will run into conflict simply because they are each focused on different thinking styles. For example,

Green hat: “Here’s an idea.”
Black hat: “Here’s a problem with your idea.”
Green hat: “Why are you shooting down my idea?”

Red hat: “Something doesn’t feel right about this approach.”
White hat: “What’s wrong with you? The data show it’s perfect.”

Here’s the solution from DeBono. For complex group decisions, have everyone take on the same hat in turn. This prevents conflicts between different thinking styles. For example, start with the blue hat to set the agenda and ground rules. Then all put on your red hats to get initial impressions, the green hats to generate ideas, the yellow hats to look for opportunities, the black hats to identify risks, and the white hats to assess the options. You may want to cycle through these again. For example, “Let’s all put on our red hats and see how we feel about the answer we’ve chosen.”

Have you ever used the technique of Six Thinking Hats? How did you use it? How did it work for you?