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Is Your Team Whole Brained?

As much as our culture may romanticise the idea of the lone-wolf, humans are social creatures and we have always worked in teams. Teams bring massive value to our work, and are becoming more important and prominent in the contemporary workforce. Aside from the benefit of simply having more people working on the job, teams bring benefits through the mixing of ideas, talent and skills. The discussions that arise from contrasting ideas lead to synergy and better outcomes.

Leading organisations are already seeking to improve diversity in their workforce. Often though, these good intentions are implemented in ways that leave a lot to be desired...

For starters, there is minimal benefit in improving gender diversity if it is only done at an organisational level, and not at a team level. Often organisations will improve their headline gender diversity, but dig a little deeper and you will see, for example, that females may achieve equality or even dominance in the commercial arm of a business, but barely make and entrance into the technical teams. When this happens there is little mixing of ideas and may actually increase antagonism between areas of the business as it further highlights the differences.

Perhaps an even bigger issue, though, is the focus on gender and ethnic diversity at the expense of other forms of diversity. While improving gender and ethnic diversity is admirable and something I would encourage, it is focusing only on the more visible aspects of diversity. There will still be benefits of course, demographic diversity will bring different histories and experiences to the organisation, but a male and a female engineer that have been to the same schools, same university, and employed at the same company are likely to have very similar ways of thinking. To really benefit from diversity in teams, you need to get diversity in thinking—that’s what will promote dialogue and a contest of ideas to improve performance and outcomes.

A six year study at the US Forestry Centre demonstrated that only 30% of homogenous thinking-style teams achieved success, yet this increased to 70% when the teams were heterogeneous in terms of their thinking style.1

One way to look at thinking diversity is to use one of my favourite tools, the HBDI or Herrmann Brain Dominance Instrument and WBT or Whole Brain Thinking. Drawing on the science of brain specialisation, the tool provides a metaphorical representation of individual thinking styles. The tool has many layers to it, and can be rich in complexity, but for today’s purpose will look at the surface layer of the tool. At its most conceptual level, the tool provides four thinking styles shown below.

Whole Brain Model

Each of these thinking styles bring benefits to a team and creates synergy from diversity. Your A Quadrant thinkers will bring you the technical expertise and analysis. B Quadrant thinkers are needed to keep the team organised and pay attention to the detailed work. C Quadrant thinkers will ensure that you consider your customers and stakeholders (and each other). And D Quadrant thinkers will innovate and connect the dots. 

When your team can draw on all four thinking styles, you will achieve better outcomes. The risk of group-think will decrease, but the potential for conflict can also increase so you will need to ensure you have strong team processes in place to ensure healthy working relationships and respect for diversity in thinking styles.

Chances are that as you are reading this you already have a team in place, so creating a new one of diverse individuals with different thinking styles isn’t feasible. So if you already have an established team and suspect that there is an under-representation of thinking styles, you can still use the model to get your team to approach challenges from each of the four quadrants. This may be challenging for them as it can feel unnatural and is not their usual style (think of doctors and engineers struggling with people skills, or academics struggling with administration and organisation), but approaching issues this way will lead to better outcomes. Use the walkaround below to help your team address business issues in a whole-brain way

WALKAROUND Think About Team Action March 2017


Going forward, think about how you can ensure that you embed Whole Brain Thinking in your strategic planning, decision making, and communication. Doing so will ensure that you are always making higher quality decisions.


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