Small Group Task Training

– Dr David Stong, Avatar Consulting Group


This is a report of an uncontrolled, experimentally based training exercise using A-I theory and KAI to heighten awareness of, and favourably dispose individuals towards, collaborating across in-group diversities such as those of style. The aim was to improve the members’ insights and skills for future small group problem-solving or decision-making sessions.


This exercise involved 30 design studio owners, design students and faculty members from a prominent college of arts in mid-eastern US. All participants had responded to the KAI but had not been given any feedback. The participants were paired in dyads and assigned to five sub-groups based on their KAI scores. First the scores for the whole group were hierarchically arranged from highest innovator to highest adaptor. The whole group was divided into two main subgroups at the exact middle of the range. Then the individual at the top of the innovator group was paired with the highest innovator (having, in fact a score at the middle of the whole range) of the second group. So, starting with a pair at the top and middle of each group, the rest were paired in order so that the final pair consisted of individuals at middle of the first group and at the most adaptive of the second group. This meant that there was a maximum possible gap between the individuals in each pair given that the gaps were nearly the same size in each dyad as the array of scores allowed.

Next, 15 dyads, divided up into 5 sub-groups, were given the same task to complete. Each individual was instructed to devise specific candidate attributes, e.g., name, age, sex, education, leadership abilities, etc, that would best suit a particular job description, and, taking turns, attempt to get agreement from the rest of their sub-group of this proposed set of attributes. Sub-groups were told that they would have to select a candidate from among them (not make up a composite of various candidates) and present a proposal aimed at inducing the four other sub-groups to accept their choice of candidate as the “best” one in a majority vote (one vote per sub-group). Besides fixing time limits for the various stages of the task and issuing room sites, no other directives were given.


After returning to the main room, it was found that three of the five sub-groups had not succeeded in picking a representative candidate. This revelation provoked what was a premature disclosure of how the respective sub-groups went about their decision-making processes during the phases of their task. Interestingly enough, one of the “successful” (task completing) sub-groups now admitted that they had intended to propose a “composite” candidate, which would have been in violation of the instructions.

Importantly, further investigation found that the common denominator amongst the sub-groups that failed to comply with the task objective was that they found it impossible to agree even upon the evaluative criteria for selecting the candidate, much less upon a specific set of candidate attributes. This difficulty seemed to follow from the fact that differing KAI types have differing problem solving perspectives. If the individuals disagree how a problem is defined, it is unlikely that they will agree upon how the potential solutions will be evaluated.

A closer examination of their difficulties affirmed that the primary loci of disagreement with the sub groups were either between adaptors and innovators or between high innovators. Another noteworthy point was that the “successful” sub-group happened to have the most adaptive mean and the gap between this sub-group and the others was also the largest, a chance result that the methodology had been set up to avoid. The members of this sub-group reported that they were dissatisfied with their decision but reached it “in order to comply with the instructions”.

Once the discussion about the decision-making was complete, participants received full explanation of the experiment and feedback about Kirton theory and their scores. They were then asked to undertake another exercise. The task set was quite different – collaborating in the building of a model tower, part of a “creativity” training exercise. This time they reported a better understanding of how to manage their differences – although this result would, of course, be influenced also by the fact that they remained in the same sub-group teams and had had experience with each other. Nevertheless, they were sure that the discussion of theory relating to that first exercise had added valuable insight.