Often when you feel like your team isn’t working together to effectively solve a problem, it’s because you don’t understand the different problem-solving styles of team members. The author, who has studied how people make decisions for 30 years, has identified five archetypes that he calls problem-solving profiles. Adventurers are optimistic, confident and tend to go with their gut reactions. Detectives want to follow the data. Listeners are more collaborative and want to ask for input from others. Thinkers are cautious and want to identify multiple paths forward. Visionaries pride themselves on seeing paths that others do not. Understanding your team’s problem-solving profiles can help identify the tensions you feel, reduce friction and change behavior to improve your decision-making.
Evelyn, the chief executive of an eco-conscious hospitality company, flew with her senior leadership team to visit their operations in Costa Rica. A hotel that could give the company access to a higher market was for sale, and the head of the local office wanted to act quickly on the opportunity.
However, once the team was assembled on location, it quickly became apparent that the Costa Rican branch had some confusing financial data that the Denver-based headquarters team was not fully aware of. Sitting down with her chief financial officer, head of retail, and head of new business development, Evelyn wanted to move quickly financially so they could jump on this exciting new opportunity – and she was disappointed that she is the only one talking. He wanted to hear from the team, but they were silent. The team needed clarification before they could proceed with a significant financial purchase, and Evelyn felt that her team was not working together effectively to solve the problem.
It’s not uncommon for managers to find themselves in a situation similar to Evelyn’s. This is often the result of conflicting decision-making styles among team members. We want to collaborate with people who think – and problem solve – like we do, reinforcing our own cognitive biases and blind spots, and inadvertently discouraging real, creative problem solving .
I have spent 30 years studying how people make decisions and recognize five different decision-making archetypes, which I call problem solver profiles (PSPs). As I described in my book Problem Solving: Maximizing Your Strengths to Make Better Decisions, these PSPs are personal approaches built from our individual strengths and weaknesses. Once we become aware of ourselves and the profiles of our team members, we can take steps to become more dynamic, flexible decision makers.
The Five Profiles of Problem Solving
We tend to see the strengths of our own decision-making patterns and the weaknesses of others. But each problem-solving profile has unique strengths and weaknesses; these cognitive biases are two sides of the same coin. Of course, many of us can be more than one type of problem solver, but in almost all cases we rely on one dominant method. Below are five problem-solving profiles and how some of their cognitive biases help or hurt their decision making.
Adventurers attend to their gut reaction. This optimistic and confident decision maker often finds the future more interesting than the present. Their optimistic bias helps their ability to make quick decisions – but it can also hinder their perception of the quality of the decision they’re faced with.
Detectives like to follow the data. This evidence-based decision-maker boldly seeks the data so that it leads them everywhere. However, their attraction to research and facts can also lead them to a confirmation bias where the data is the most important criteria in their current decision. For example, being focused on data, they may lose the ability to work well with others.
Listeners want to ask for input from others. This collaborative and confident decision maker works well with their colleagues. However, they often suffer from a preference bias that makes it difficult to adjust their own opinion or to express a point that may be contrary to others.
Thinkers progress in identifying multiple pathways and outcomes. This thoughtful, careful decision maker likes to know their options. Their desire to understand the “why” behind a decision can hinder their ability to evaluate each option individually because they can fall victim to frame blindness that limits their view and understanding of the problem at hand. they solved.
Visionaries proud of themselves for seeing paths that others do not. This creative, original decision-maker has a great vision, but they can fall victim to the scarcity bias, preferring to find a unique solution rather than the obvious solution in front of them.
From this very brief overview, you can see how the interaction varies with different combinations of PSPs. For example, a thinker and an adventurer may effectively counter each other’s cognitive biases, but they may also experience conflict in their problem-solving approaches. A group of visionaries or detectives, on the other hand, may work well together, but may also magnify each other’s weaknesses. Visionaries are great at coming up with new ideas, but struggle to test these ideas, while detectives may find plenty of evidence to test their hypotheses; once they have the data, however, they are ready to move forward without bringing in other stakeholders.
Because Evelyn and her team had just completed a professional development workshop, everyone knew their PSP. Evelyn knows that she is an adventurer, full of ideas, always thinking ahead, and ready to act quickly. But he remembered that morning in Costa Rica that his CFO was a thinker, and the retail leader, new business development chief, and head of operations in Costa Rica were listeners. Together they form a thoughtful and collaborative team – but one that moves slowly, wanting to have time to explore different options and their implications and to reach a consensus-based decision.
Evelyn realizes that her team falls into a pattern where she speaks first, offers her favored decision and seeks confirmation from her team – adventurers feel comfortable starting. He expected the others to behave like adventurers too, moving quickly based on their own skills. But when the team faced a situation where they had to drill down into the data, Evelyn’s gut reaction came into conflict with the slower and more methodical decision-making of the thinker and listener of her team. .
Evelyn decided to change her own behavior, refraining from being the first to speak up in order to increase her team’s ability to work well together. The result: They raised questions about finances that Evelyn hadn’t thought to ask.
Evelyn begins to feel frustrated, and thinks that her team is the problem. By taking the time to apply her knowledge of problem solver profiles, she was able to identify the causes of the stress she was feeling, and recognize that her decision-making process was becoming a barrier to effective problem solving. He can reframe the problem, thereby reducing friction and moving decision making in such a way that all team members contribute positively. In the end, the company decided not to pursue a new purchase, but instead to focus on getting the branch in Costa Rica on a stronger financial footing.
Evelyn was chosen for her job with of his adventurer traits; they are part of his personality as a man who can do things. But he needs to stop expecting his management team to behave like him. By stepping back and looking at his team’s strengths instead of their weaknesses, he was able to more effectively manage the company.
Many managers face the same challenge. Reframing — like Evelyn did — can improve your team, your work relationships, and your leadership. Using PSPs to understand different decision-making patterns can help you examine your own decision-making process, as well as the diversity of decision-making styles and dynamics that arise in your team’s decision-making. With this foundation, you can adapt your approach to work more effectively with others to make better big decisions together.