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Mental Health and Wellbeing – How KAI can help

Welcome to the KAI podcast series ‘Building Better Teams and Great Leaders.’ KAI or the Kirton Adaption Innovation Inventory is one of the world’s foremost measures for problem solving, team work and creativity. It’s been in use for over 40 years and is supported by a wide range of academic research from around the world. In these podcasts we aim to shine the light on the issues and problems facing all teams as they strive to be the best version of themselves.

In today’s episode, we’re going to explore how KAI is linked to well-being and good mental health, especially in the workplace. We’ll also look at what this has meant in COVID times.

Hosted by Dave Harries, who is joined by Mel Dowdy, a hugely experienced clinical psychologist with over 40 years of consulting practice behind him. He’s also a business coach and consultant, all of which he does through his company Delphy Initiatives, which focuses on leadership development and diversity programmes to advance the quality of life for organisations and their communities.

Samia Shehadeh is a coaching and business psychologist with over 30 years’ experience helping individuals and organisations. She is an NLP Master practitioner, and a practitioner in applied neuroscience, and has worked with many blue-chip organisations and Government departments to develop and enact change programmes, and leadership and culture development.

Transcript - click here

DH: Dave Harries
MD: Mel Dowdy
SS: Samia Shehadeh

DH: [0:00:00.0] Welcome to the KAI podcast series ‘Building Better Teams and Great Leaders.’

KAI or the Kirton Adaption Innovation Inventory is one of the world’s foremost measures for problem solving, team work and creativity. It’s been in use for over 40 years and is supported by a wide range of academic research from around the world. In these podcasts we aim to shine the light on the issues and problems facing all teams as they strive to be the best version of themselves.

In today’s episode, we’re going to explore how KAI is linked to well-being and good mental health, especially in the workplace. We’ll also look at what this has meant in COVID times.

My name is Dave Harries, and joining me to discuss these issues are two very distinguished KAI practitioners. Mel Dowdy is a hugely experienced clinical psychologist with over 40 years of consulting practice behind him. He’s also a business coach and consultant, all of which he does through his company Delphy Initiatives, which focuses on leadership development and diversity programmes to advance the quality of life for organisations and their communities.

Samia Shehadeh is a coaching and business psychologist with over 30 years’ experience helping individuals and organisations. She is an NLP Master practitioner, and a practitioner in applied neuroscience, and has worked with many blue-chip organisations and Government departments to develop and enact change programmes, and leadership and culture development.

Thank you both very much for joining me today. I wonder if we could start by briefly explaining again the basic tenets of KAI theory for any listeners who may be less familiar with it. Mel, could you remind me of the inventory scale, how that works and what it means?

MD: [0:01:43.6] First of all, David, thank you so much for hosting this. The KAI is unique among the various measures of creativity and problem solving that we can find in almost all of the tools that are being used by leadership coaches. There’s a real difference between style and capacity or level, and what KAI does is to measure how we actually go about solving problems. Our level of capacity may differ between us because of IQ, because of training, education, etc, but our style tends to be very consistent over time.

So the KAI is an inventory that gives you a look into how you as a person actually enter into the process of solving a problem, or creating something new. If we understand that well, then we have the opportunity to use our strength to its utmost and to respect the differences of others in their style, their approach.

MH: [0:02:47.8] Samia, the scale, the inventory, that we are measured on, on the face of it looks fairly simple; it’s just numbers, and you’re somewhere on this numbered scale. Explain to me, if you could, where you appear on the scale and what that really means in simple terms.

SS: [0:03:04.0] Okay. Well, essentially the scale is from 32 to 160 points, and people are on that scale in a bell-shaped curve essentially, where the majority – something like 67 per cent I believe, fit into the middle of the bell shaped curve and then the rest sit on either side.

And as Mel said, this is not about capability. It’s about preferred style. There’s neither right nor wrong. One is neither better nor worse than the other. Everyone, at whatever point they are in the scale, has qualities that are needed and wanted.

DH: [0:03:40.8] And if you’re in the lower numbers of that scale, then I think I’m right in thinking you have a more Adaptive problem-solving style. And if you’re up in the higher numbers, you tend towards a more Innovative problem-solving style. Is that right, Mel?

MD: [0:03:56.1] Absolutely. When solving a problem, even trying to define the problem, the Adapter is much more likely to want structure and to target the ideas to look at whatever system is being changed, as the context and the structure to keep and to try to improve that system and the way it performs. People who are on the Adaptive side when they’re generating solutions, they like really clear directions. They like well-defined problems, they generate fewer and develop safer ideas. They want to be precise, and fairly methodological and disciplined, in their approach. They rarely challenge the rules and they use rules to solve problems. They seek consensus and they value group cohesion.

SS: [0:04:43.3] Yes, Mel, I agree with the great size of the Adapters. We’ve also got at the other end of the scale, the Innovators. Those people will complement very much the Adapters in many ways, and what they will demonstrate will be things like they actually prefer to do things differently. They’ll consider novelty exciting. They are happy to push beyond boundaries and paradigms. And they do occasionally or in fact often underestimate the concept of challenging consensus, and don’t always consider consensus. They’re risk taking, they see rules and norms as flexible.

So again, here it’s about pushing boundaries, pushing the rules. The rules are there to be broken essentially. They might create systems that appear different, but could also be unstable. They may appear to be undisciplined in approaching tasks from unexpected perspectives, and they don’t wish and want to be constrained by structures. They often question assumptions, and they have a lot of value in changing the rules when rules need to be changed, or in finding solutions where things need to be very different to the way they are within the current structure.

DH: [0:06:03.4] Samia, the use of the word ‘Innovation,’ we have to be a bit careful with here, don’t we, because obviously sometimes in its general use in everyday life, Innovators can be highly regarded and all that sort of thing – and there’s a danger, isn’t there, that that perception could carry over into this scale? And you think, ‘Oh, well, if you’re in the Innovative end of the spectrum, somehow that’s a better thing to be.’ But that’s not right, is it?

SS: [0:06:27.7] No, absolutely not, especially when using the KAI as well, the concept really is about the fact that everyone can be Innovative, and everyone could be Innovative in accordance with their preferred style. So, you could be Innovative within the constraints of a paradigm and actually change things to be better within those constraints, or you could be a blue sky thinker, and be Innovative much more on the blue sky thinking as such. And both will have their value and everywhere in between as well depending on the needs of the thinking and depending on the needs of the Innovation.

DH: [0:07:07.4] And finally, Mel, before we move on to talk about well-being and mental health, could you remind us please of the issue of Problem A versus Problem B – because that’s quite fundamental to a lot of what KAI talks about, I think, isn’t it?

MD: [0:07:18.8] Yeah, the moment we want to solve a problem or join with someone in creativity, we’re moving into trying to focus what is the problem that we want to solve, and we make an agreement about doing that. We call that Problem A, but the moment the other person is invited into that process, we have Problem B – namely the diversity or the difference that might exist between myself and the other person.

Think of a team of four, five, six, seven, eight people. The amount of diversity that might exist within that team can stretch all across that scale as many essences, and so Problem B is managing the diversity of differences in the way, and the how, people are going to approach that problem.

DH: [0:08:06.1] So Samia, let’s talk about KAI in terms of well-being now. Well-being and mental health are big subjects these days, particularly with what we’ve all been through in the last 15,16 months with the pandemic and so on. So what does KAI have to say in broad terms about well-being, and what do you think it can do to help us?

SS: [0:08:29.8] That’s a very interesting question actually. KAI looks to understand people’s preferred styles of thinking, solving issues and problems, and of dealing with change. And depending on where one is on the scale, people find it easier or more difficult to adapt to change, but it also depends on the scale of the change. So you can imagine with the pandemic as it has been, there have been huge amounts of change for most people, and where they are on a scale will have them have different feelings towards those huge changes.

Generally speaking, the Innovators on this huge scale change are perhaps dealing with it more easily because they’re more used to big paradigm shifts, big shifting of boundaries, and their way of coping. Their ways of coping will be different, and here again this has something to do with coping strategies.

The KAI discusses that quite clearly. So when people are going beyond their preferred style, it’s not to say they can’t deal with things. It means that they will probably have to tap into some resources inside of themselves and different strategies that they use, to cope with things that are not within their norm of style of thinking and being.

DH: [0:09:50.1] So Mel, given what Samia has just said about coping mechanisms and that sort of thing, do you think that a lot of the stress that we all feel on a day to day basis at work, or indeed in our personal lives, can be put down to our problem solving styles, and people we work with or communicate with having different styles?

MD: [0:10:13.5] Absolutely. We’re not only talking about styles that you see in behaviour, but when someone else is speaking, you must listen. So if it’s a news broadcaster, or whatever, CBC or Dr Fauci, whoever is speaking, they may be speaking from a very different style. And if the style is very different from yours, it’s harder to hear, it’s harder to understand, and it creates stress.

So we’re trying to answer what do I believe, or what not to do, to stay safe. And so first of all keep in mind that just the conversation about what the pandemic is, how it’s progressing, what’s happening with vaccinations, all of that information is communicated in different styles. And so hearing it and using that information can cause stress. Then you turn on to the team mill meeting, or you get on the line with a colleague, and you bring that stress into the conversation. Then as you listen to the other person, and you’re trying to find the Problem B, you’re trying to find a way to talk about a problem, and how to approach that, that makes sense to both of you, the stress continues. So it’s one building on the other, building on the other.

So yes, and the problem that we’re trying to deal with – let’s say, I’ve got a distribution issue in my company. How are we going to distribute what we deliver as products? New ways of changing that delivery system. It becomes very important in the context of the pandemic to find a solution that does not put more people at risk.

And so again, what styles we bring to understanding the nature of the pandemic, and what are the limits of what we can do within it, that by itself creates a lot of stress.

DH: [0:12:15.0] Samia, that’s fascinating what Mel has just said, isn’t it, about the communication styles – whether it’s people in the public eye, or whether it’s your colleagues at work, or indeed your family and friends for that matter. So it’s not just necessarily the solving of a given problem. It’s the way you communicate the solving of that problem that can be problematic and is identified by KAI.

SS: [0:12:40.7] Absolutely right. The language that people use, the pace of speech that people use, the tonality that people use, will all differ. And then the amount of detail that is put into a conversation will differ. So where perhaps the people who are on the Adaptive side of the scale might speak more slowly, might speak in a more detailed manner, might be more consensus-driven and asking other people for their views. If you have an Innovator, a person who is higher on the scale on the Innovation side listening into that, they’ll want to say, ‘Come on, let’s just get on with the conversation.’ Can we just move this on people? Yes, I’ve got it. I’ve got it.’ Or ‘I think this way. Yes, we understand that now, don’t we?’

So that can be very different. The pace, the tone, the movements, the feelings are very different. And so understanding those differences, realising that there is benefit in all ways of communicating, can actually help us to be more patient with each other’s differences.

DH: [0:13:46.6] Mel, as I mentioned in the introduction, you’ve got a great deal of experience helping people – not just with KAI, but with your clinical psychology and your consulting and so on. I wonder, could you give me some examples perhaps of how you have used this knowledge to help people to reduce that stress to increase their well-being in their teams?

MD: [0:14:08.6] Just last week I was doing an offsite team building with a group of people who are responsible for leading a fairly large educational system – high school kids. They were trying to solve the basic problem of what are we going to do about masking? Okay, we’ve got to create a policy around masking. What do we ask of our staff? What do we ask of our vendors? What have we got to ask of our students, our teachers?

The way in which the problem was being addressed, it took them at least a good 10 to 15 minutes to actually define the problem, what is the problem we’re up against? The Adapters in the room were quite quick to say, ‘Well, it’s quite clear. This is how we do things here. These are the ways we’ve always done them here. Everyone is used to doing it this way, so why don’t we try to improve that?’ Whereas there were two Innovators in the room, and they were immediately saying, ‘But this is not like any other problem we’ve ever solved. Why should we recreate the same sort of disconnects that people have with the current policies? Let’s just start afresh, and write it from the start as if the previous policies or the previous ways of doing things did not exist?’

It took them a while to agree. ‘Well, no, the approach is going to be what?’ How we’re going to bring those things together.’ Back to the comment that Samia was just making about the patience it takes to really take the time, move slowly, don’t become irritated with each other because you’re talking very different language, and find that common ground around which the problem can be addressed.

That means that the Innovators in this case really needed to borrow some of the style of the Adapters. They needed to cope with that situation by actually borrowing some of those behaviours for at least a while. And when we do that, that can feel stressful because we’re reaching outside of our preferred way of approaching the problem.

DH: [0:16:23.8] So given that, given that it can feel stressful, if you understand where you sit on that scale between Innovator and Adapter, does that reduce the stress – just the knowledge that you are one or the other, or you tend to one or the other, and you’re dealing with people who are different?

SS: [0:16:43.8] Oh, I would absolutely agree. I think the beauty of having KAI and knowing your score, and actually working as a team knowing each other’s scores, means that everyone understands that there are differences. Everyone understands what are these differences. It provides a common language, a common reference point that you can then discuss, and it opens up discussions by the mere fact that you can actually say, ‘Oh, I’m such and such on the scale. This is how I operate. This is how I feel’ and they go, ‘Right.’ That’s where the ways of working together are a little bit fraught. ‘Okay, well now we know that, what are we going to do so we can work better together? And it provides us with ideas, solutions, language, and a better way of communicating together so as to reduce the strain, reduce the impatience, reduce the friction that can go on between disparate ways of being.

DH: [0:17:39.7] And Samia, when you explain these sorts of things to your clients, are they credulous? Do they sort of say, ‘Oh, yeah, that makes sense,’ or is there pushback?

SS: [0:17:49.7] No, I think once people have actually understood KAI and their scoring, they have really embraced it actually and understood, had some insights about themselves, and understood insights about others that they work with, their family members, and also insights about how they are working and why things work well with some and not so well with others. To know it’s a brilliant tool to really understand and value the differences. and work with the differences.

DH: [0:18:20.8] And Mel, in the example you just gave, once they knew where they were on that scale, did that help? Did that bring people together and make them work more effectively?

MD: [0:18:30.4] Absolutely. We did a session a number of months ago, in which we introduced the KAI. Everyone had taken the inventory, and we were able to actually see in the room what the range of differences were. So people knew, for example, that the leader of the team tended to be much more on the Innovative side. They also knew among the Adaptors who actually was occupying much more of the middle range in the whole distribution. We call those people who are in the intermediate position ‘bridgers.’ They really are in a flexible position to be able to bridge the differences between those who are more Innovative and those who are more Adaptive, and bring about some insight into where the common ground might exist. So the training in advance had helped them.

They had also been able to affirm to each other things such as – ‘When I’m up against this type of problem, I know that so and so on the team is much more likely to be helpful in helping me solve that problem because they will approach it from a different point of view.’ And so the amount of respect that was already shared and developed in this particular team really did help them to take their time and be patient with the differences of approach and that makes it a lot less stressful.

Also, it keeps the motivation higher because I enjoy working with you and with your differences rather than considering you to be the problem I’m trying to solve.

DH: [0:20:09.4] And Samia, if we’re talking, as we are about well-being, mental health and those sorts of things, clearly there are a lot of teams within organisations that don’t perhaps function as well as they should. So how do you start that process of bringing a team together, and improving the well- being outcomes as it were, as well as the outcomes of the purpose of the team at the same time?

SS: [0:20:36.2] It comes back to what Mel was saying about Problem A and Problem B.

So you’ve got Problem A, which is the task at hand, and then Problem B, which is actually working together as a team and ensuring that you are able to deliver on the task at hand, and spend your time doing that mostly, rather than worrying about how the team is functioning. So working with teams, what we would do is obviously there’s this confidentiality aspect of things, people would be filling in the inventory, and receiving their scores. And from there, you would want people to be sharing that. There would be an element of confidentiality and keeping that within the team unless it was wanting to be shared otherwise. People would then understand each other’s place on the scale, and understand the differences between each other, and that would then allow them to have conversations, to discuss in pairs.

The ideal would be to then put them in groups – one where they are at similar ends of the scales, where they can understand each other’s cognitive styles, they speak together about their cognitive styles and really focus themselves on who they are, what they are, what their styles are, and understand that. And then after that, you would have conversations between the two different sets of people, and split them up, and help them to understand each other better, what works for them, what doesn’t work for them, what irritations do they have from working with the other’s style? All of that allows for an increased understanding of each other, and also an understanding of what actually is good about the others that complements – because actually, as a team, we need to complement each other.

So as an example, you might be somebody with a brilliant idea on how to solve a problem, but you won’t necessarily be the one to implement it. Well, where does the idea go then? It gets lost. You need the people who are more willing to then implement it, to stay within the structures and get the thing going, and actually get it done. And so that’s where our differences are great and necessary, and come together to make things happen.

DH: [0:22:49.5] So actually, what you’re saying is, the differences are really important. They’re helpful, you need them in a team, but you’ve also got to understand them, and appreciate them, and appreciate the other people who have those different problem solving skills.

So Mel, I wonder – talking about wellbeing and mental health and those sorts of things, when you come to a client, to a team that you’re helping, is your overriding thing that you want to make them happier as well as obviously being able to solve the problems that they’re paid to solve? I think in my introduction I did say that you helped quality of life for organisations and their community. So I guess that is about happiness, isn’t it?

MD: Well, one of the things that makes us happy, really feel a certain sense of joy, is to be visible, not to be made invisible. For someone to actually see us, and to recognise that we bring value, and that our story – whatever that story may be – is an important part of being understood. And how different my story may be from yours, if you take the time to listen and to understand my story, and my perspective, and you make me visible, there is a quality that quite literally is physiological. We can measure it with hormones and heart rate and so many other ways, but they will tell you people actually begin to feel viscerally happier, lighter. So there’s a pleasure in being understood, number one.

Number two, when two people realise there is something that despite their differences, there’s something that we can do, that really feels like we did it. At the end of the day there is a sense of collaboration. There is a sense of shared responsibility and shared accountability. There is ownership for what we are going to actually produce as a team, as leadership to our company, to our organisation. That sense of ‘we-ness’ we find a more and more highly enjoyable, pleasurable experience, and teams will need opportunities to step back after the problem solving has been done and implementation is working, to sit back and celebrate. ‘Oh, we did it! We pulled this off together, and we did it in the context of a wide range of differences that we experience.’

DH: [0:25:20.1] So Samia, I guess from what Mel’s saying, and from what you’ve been saying as well, it’s about respect. It’s about understanding, and it’s about being recognised as Mel just said.

SS: [0:25:31.4] Oh, absolutely. I think MeI’s made a brilliant point that it is much more when we feel all of those, and acknowledged. I think acknowledgment is incredibly important as well. When we’re acknowledging our differences, acknowledging what our values are with our preferred styles, and what we bring, when we understand it to be valuable, it does add to our happiness, it adds to our self-esteem, and to our mental well-being. Absolutely, Dave.

DH: [0:26:01.1] Samia, I know that one of your passions, and one of the things that you talk about a lot in your work, is sustainability. I’d be really keen before we finish to get an opinion from both of you about how that fits in with well-being and mental health, because obviously we’re all concerned about the planet. There’s clearly a climate crisis going on around us, and clearly that’s going to have effects on our well-being and our mental health. It’s bound to. So how does all that fit in, do you think?

SS: [0:26:29.5] I’ve got two aspects to this. There’s the mental health side, and then there’s the actual solution driven focus for sustainability and the climate emergency that we’re in.

On the mental health side, I think very much like with the pandemic, different people will adapt differently to the stressors that are being faced, and different people will take it on differently. The Adapters will – I think we mentioned this earlier on – will be dealing with it within a paradigm shift that is shifting extremely largely. And that will be perhaps more difficult to cope with. And they will want to find ways of helping themselves and helping others who have those preferred styles to deal and cope with those big changes that are coming.

The Innovators might be thinking, ‘Right, well, what can I do to solve these worldwide global issues? How am I going to get involved in all of this.?’ And although they will still have their anxieties to do with it, they are perhaps more willing to consider the paradigm shift. So that would be on the mental health side.

I think on the actual solving the world’s issues side, it’s very interesting that you’ve got Adaption side and Innovation, because there’s very much two concepts that work so well hand in hand in solving problems for the world as it stands. You’ve got the one such as the electric car. It’s an Innovation, but it’s still an Innovation within a paradigm of a vehicle on the road. It takes us from A to B and it needs fuel – whether it’s at the petrol station, or whether it’s plugging into the electric socket, it’s still needing to be fuelled up. So that’s a solution, which you could say is more on the Adaptation with Innovation on the technology side, or you’ve got huge variations in new technologies that are there to solve problems in ways that we’ve never solved them before.

And so it’s a really interesting parallel between the KAI and the scales, and actually the solutions that are needed across all of that level of the scale, all of those types of scale, to solve the world’s problems. I think we need all sorts of different styles to help us in this quest to make the world a better place for everyone and a safer place to live.

DH: [0:28:55.9] And Mel, the last word to you then. Solving the world’s problems and KAI, is there a connection?

MD: [0:29:03.6] One of the things that I would want to see happen is that we understand sustainability doesn’t exist simply across the globe. It has to exist inside of particular communities, and those particular communities have a way of life.

As an Innovator, I find myself leaning much more towards the Adaptive side and saying, ‘Let’s just keep in mind the way of life of a particular community, and that has its own structure, its own rhythm, its own way of being in the world.’ And so the way that community is going to look at a particular technology is going to be different than perhaps another community. So we have to find a way to deliver the solutions that take into account the particular way of life of a community. At the same time introduce them to Innovations that will be consistent with their values, with the rhythm of the life that they live.

I think of how often I turn to the members of my little community here in Richmond. We have a wonderful connection through the internet. Every now and then I will interrupt one of the emails and say, ‘You live only three doors down from me. I’ll be there in five minutes.’ It’s trying to break out of the technology in order to connect more with them, because they’re my neighbours and I want them to experience that. So we have to find a way to use technology to solve our problems, but also not let it displace our sense of the particular community and way of life that we’re used to living.

DH: [0:30:46.3] Well, thank you both very much. It’s been an absolutely fascinating discussion.

You’ve been listening to the KAI podcast with our special guests, Mel Dowdy and Samia Shehadeh. If you found the discussion interesting, you can find out more about the KAI system and its world beating team development potential at www.kaicentre.com. In the meantime, please subscribe and share this podcast.

Thanks for listening.




New Article by Megan Seibel in Training Magazine

How to Ensure Your Team’s Great Ideas Percolate Through Your Workforce

Whether your employees are Jeff Bezos adaptors or Elon Musk innovators, here’s how to create a more cohesive and effective team that inspires others to share and give life to ideas that may be bubbling just below your company’s surface.

By Dr. Megan Seibel

Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos are great examples of how employees can have polar opposite styles when it comes to problem-solving and developing ideas, yet still achieve success to the highest magnitude.

Everything—from the way employees conceptualize problems to the way they react to them, communicate them, and implement them to resolve a problem—differs depending on their genetic makeup and personality. This, in turn, affects whether these ideas remain just that—an idea—or evolve into the next best creation for the benefit of the business and team.

…read the full article here!




Jeff Bezos – Why not all leaders have to be ‘Innovators’

Everyone’s heard of the phenomenon which is Amazon. More widely used now than ever before, especially after the 2020 lockdowns, where high streets had to close, and many of us turned to it to fulfil our shopping wants and needs.

It’s safe to say that Amazon is a global success story, and behind all successful businesses lies the founder, the creator, the one who made it happen. Jeff Bezos, who started a small online bookstore in 1994, grew the ambition to capitalise the growth and opportunity of Internet sales.

When we think of ‘successful entrepreneurs’ then we often think ‘innovation’. But Bezos proves this that innovation isn’t always the way to success; where he is concerned, the word ‘innovator’ does not fit at all… quite the opposite.

Observing his approach to building his successful enterprise shows us he worked on his adaptive concept, working by tweaking and constant improving, he reached the outstanding business he owns today. Rather than coming up with new additions that can’t always guarantee success, he instead utilised what he knew would be work. He took advantage of pre-existing, profitable ideas, and modified them to fit his business:

  • Low prices
  • Fast delivery
  • Vast selection

All of these aspects were in demand by the public, and with Bezos’s adaptive problem-solving style, he fine-tuned them to create the hugely successful business we all use to this day, Amazon.

Interesting? Read the full article by Dr Curt Friedel here




Why team dynamics matter when it comes to big ideas

Chevron is a multinational energy corporation dedicated to creating a lower-carbon future. Action needed to be taken to help Chevron achieve their eco-friendly goals:

  • Lowering carbon intensity
  • Increasing use of renewables
  • Investing in low-carbon technology

They needed to come up with new and effective ideas to be able to accomplish their targets – one way was to significantly lower the weight of the structure from one of their new projects. How did they do this? By creating a balanced team dynamic; a team with a mix of both more adaptive and more innovative individuals, who could work together efficiently to create the solutions to all their problems…

However, getting the more adaptive and more innovative to work together collaboratively can be a challenging leadership problem – Chevron came up with an interesting solution.

Senior Leadership Development Advisor at Chevron, Michael Chuchmuch, wrote about his experience and how he managed to use KAI to utilise the diversity of the team, and gain great success!

Harness the full power of team dynamics by clicking here to read the full article…




Using KAI in Product Development

Welcome to the KAI Podcast Series, ‘Building Better Teams and Great Leaders.’ KAI, or the Kirton Adaption Innovation Inventory, is the world’s foremost measure for problem solving style. It’s used widely to create cohesive and productive teams and effective leaders. It’s been in use for over 40 years and is supported by a large body of academic research from around the world. In these podcasts, we aim to shine a light on the issues and problems facing all teams as they strive to be effective and productive.

In today’s episode, we’re going to talk about KAI in relation to product development, with two expert guests.

Michael Chuchmuch is a senior leadership development advisor for strategy and change at Chevron. Based in Houston, Texas, Michael has responsibilities that include oversight of critical transformation initiatives affecting company-wide functional improvements. He is an industry recognised strategic change professional with over 30 years’ experience delivering enterprise level change initiatives around the globe. He is also a certified advanced KAI practitioner.

Laura Moncrieffe is Global Director of Innovation for Bamboo Worldwide, and she too is a certified advanced KAI practitioner, who in her own words helps steer global brands into blue oceans. She’s been doing this for the past 21 years with the likes of Comcast NBC Universal, Wrigley Mars, SC Johnson, PepsiCo and Starbucks to name just a small selection of the many huge global brands she has partnered with.

 



Transcript - click here

DH: Dave Harries

MC: Michael Chuchmuch – Chevron

LM: Laura Moncrieffe – Bamboo Worldwide

DH: [0:00:00.0] Welcome to the KAI podcast series ‘Building Better Teams and Great Leaders.’

KAI, or the Kirton Adaption Innovation inventory, is the world’s foremost measure for problem solving style. It is used widely to create cohesive and productive teams and effective leaders. It’s been in use for over 40 years and is supported by a large body of academic research from around the world. In these podcasts we aim to shine a light on the issues and problems facing all teams as they strive to be effective and productive. In today’s episode we’re going to explore how KAI can be used as a highly effective tool to improve and innovate product development.

My name is Dave Harries and joining me today to talk about KAI in relation to product development, I have two expert guests. Michael Chuchmuch is a senior leadership development advisor for strategy and change at Chevron. Based in Houston, Texas, Michael has responsibilities that include oversight of critical transformation initiatives affecting company-wide functional improvements. He is an industry recognised strategic change professional with over 30 years’ experience delivering enterprise level change initiatives around the globe. He is also a certified advanced KAI practitioner.

Laura Moncrieffe is Global Director of Innovation for Bamboo Worldwide, and she too is a certified advanced KAAI practitioner, who in her own words helps steer global brands into blue oceans. She’s been doing this for the past 21 years, with the likes of Comcast, MBC Universal, Wrigley Mars, SC Johnson, PepsiCo and Starbucks to name just a small selection of the many huge global brands she has partnered with.

Welcome both of you to the podcast. I wonder if we could start by refreshing our listeners’ knowledge of some of the basics of KAI theory and how it might apply in product development. In particular, I wanted to look at the issue of Kirton’s famous Problem A versus Problem B.

Michael, maybe you could briefly remind us what that is?

MC: [0:02:09.0] Sure. When we think about Problem A we think about the initial problem that we’re asked to address. We may be presented with an issue or an opportunity, and we make a decision that leads to a particular action and then the result of that decision and action may actually produce a new problem or a Problem B.

So the Problem A would be the original problem, and Problem b can be the consequential problem that derives from that decision and action that you make.

DH: [0:02:39.9] And also, Laura, could I get you to remind us about the cognitive styles that Kirton’s Inventory identifies and how they apply in real life?

LM: [0:02:52.2] Absolutely. The KAI is an inventory that assesses your creative style – the creative style specifically when solving problems in dealing with change. What Dr Kirton did was break those down into two distinct style preferences – the adaptive creative and the innovative creative.

The adaptive creative, they’re driven by success. So if you think about it in terms of creativity – bigger, better, stronger, new and improved. So they’re looking to solve problems so that they’re successful right now. They do this through the use of rule, logic, precision, the tried and tested, so that they can make their current system bigger, better, stronger.

The opposite style, the innovative creative, they’re driven by excitement. Excitement of future possibilities. They’re not focused on making that current system bigger, better, stronger. They’re focused on unique and different. So oftentimes the innovative creative, they jump outside of the norm, outside of the rules, to gather inspiration that takes them some place totally different. And so it makes it an interesting working situation when you have one group of people, the innovative creative, who’s driven on new and different future possibilities, and the adaptive creatives who are focused on success of improvement right now. So that can cause some problems as we look into working together, collaborating together and creating new problems together.

DH: [0:04:25.0] Okay, brilliant. Thank you very much both of you for summing those up so neatly and nicely.

Michael, let’s talk now then about more specific things around collaboration. Obviously, Laura’s just mentioned what some of the issues are, but how does that actually work in a real team, with real leaders, trying to bring people together for product development issues, and that sort of thing? Give me a sense of where the issues lie.

MC: [0:04:51.3] Leaders really are focused on the delivery of the solution to the problem at hand and the whole aspect of the delivery of value. I think that some of the issues may come about when there’s an assumption being made that we put very well-educated, well-experienced people in a room together and provide them with a task of solving the problem, that there’s no problem. It can be handled. These folks with the same level that we think of in terms of education, experience, etc, can work together and certainly produce the desired result.

The issue comes about when we think about the differences in cognitive style. You may have an issue, for instance, on a project team, where project team members may be highly adaptive, and the project manager may be highly innovative. So as a result, the project manager is looking for that excitement that Laura talked about – the creativity and the great new breakthrough ideas. And meanwhile, the project team is “No, no, no. We really need to focus on the success at hand, what we need to deliver in terms of greater effectiveness or greater efficiency.” So it can lead to conflict without an understanding of the styles that are presenting themselves in that team.

The other thing that may actually be somewhat of a problem is leaders may not fully understand the dynamics, the cognitive dynamics, that are at play, and as a result may pass judgement on what they are observing as being something totally wrong. They may think that they’ve got the wrong people in the room, that maybe the people in the room are not experienced enough, or don’t have the right background, or whatever the case may be. So without that understanding we can see a number of the issues that surface.

DH: [0:06:40.8] And Laura, that’s a really interesting point, isn’t it that Michael’s just made there? This inability possibly to realise what it is you’re seeing in your team mates or your team if you’re the leader, and misinterpreting that as a lack of ability, when in fact it’s just a different cognitive style.

LM: [0:06:57.3] Absolutely. It could be that inability from the leader, it also can just be a lack of knowledge. What I found in working with many organisations is that leaders often wrongly assume that their team members approach solving problems in the same way they do, that they have that same creative value system that they do, and so there’s a wrong assumption that they’re all aligned on how to go forward to this end goal. And that’s where I think many leaders get in trouble and become frustrated, and the teammates become frustrated as well because the knowledge of what’s driving them – the ‘how’ they’re going to solve that problem, which is their creative style through KAI – is not widely understood nor widely celebrated. And that’s where when teams do understand different cognitive styles, whether it’s adaptive, creative, or innovative creative, they celebrate them, they invite them, they collaborate together. That push and pull of wanting to go someplace different and making sure that it’s operationally feasible, that’s that sweet spot that when leaders recognise that and celebrate that within the diversity of their team, that’s when the magic happens.

Unfortunately, many leaders don’t know about the different cognitive styles to even know how to invite or welcome that.

MC: [0:08:22.1] And Michael, I’m glad Laura mentioned diversity and inclusion there because that’s something that’s very current obviously at the moment anyway, and thinking of that in terms of cognitive style is very interesting.

I wonder in a large corporate structure that presumably you have at a place like Chevron, is it a cultural thing as well as specifically about how well trained and educated the team leaders are?

MC: [0:08:46.2] Well, it is. When we think about a cultural and organisational culture, what defines that particular culture and what are the parameters? One of the things that we’re doing at Chevron is, we have a model that looks at components of diversity. And within that model we recognise that cognitive style is indeed one of those aspects of diversity that we’re not all wired the same in terms of how we approach problem solving and creativity, and that there is a strength in the recognition of that diverse approach. As we look at providing greater value to the world in terms of the delivery of energy, how can we work together and leverage each other’s strengths from many different angles to produce new, better, ideas.

DH: [0:09:37.0] And that sounds great in theory, the idea of embracing the differences and all that sort of thing, but I wonder in practice, Laura, the many clients you work with from different organisations around the world, do you find pushback against ideas like this or do you find people generally are quite receptive to them?

LM: [0:09:57.6] Pushback, yes, mostly because they don’t know how to collaborate with someone who approaches problems so differently than them because they see it as a waste of time. And so again it goes to the drivers, the adaptive creative, they’re driven by success, they want to be impactful, they don’t want to waste time. So for the adaptive creative to have to endure all of these ideas that the innovative creative is throwing out that they know aren’t going to be successful, that seems like a waste of time for them. The innovative creative become bored. They’re driven by excitement, so when they’re having to collaborate with someone who wants to rehash what’s been done in the past, this is the right way to do it, this is the protocol, they’re feeling limited. And they’re feeling like they can’t move forward in a way that’s going to open up the new possibilities. So they don’t have the tools to be able to work together unless they have the knowledge of KAI, and the benefits of that creative diversity when it comes to collaboration. That’s been the struggles of many organisations, not that the people are blind or resistant to partner together, they just don’t see the benefits yet of the different creative diversity within the team.

MC: [0:11:14.1] So David, if I may, let me follow that up and give you an example of exactly what Laura is talking about from Chevron.

So on one of our offshore platform projects, one of the great challenges that we had was how do you take the current engineering design and actually reduce weight and reduce cost – two very, very important factors when you’re dealing with significant capital outlay on a big project. Just so folks understand the size of these projects, $100 million is a small amount on a capital project these days. The big oil projects easily go into a half a billion plus, and so taking cost out and taking weight out of a project is a very important thing.

And one of the projects that we worked on, basically, the Project Director came to me and said, “Look, we’ve looked at everything to take cost out and to take the weight out. We can’t think of anything else. Any suggestions in terms of how we can maybe re-examine this because there’s still a target to deliver that particular goal?” And what we did is, we looked at the engineering team involved in the front end design work of this and we had them go through the KAI and determine that the population of engineers neatly fit almost 50:50 in terms of adapters versus innovators. And by providing specific tools, adaptive style tools and innovative style tools to both groups we were able to actually have them address this problem of reduction in weight and cost, but do it in their independent groups.

So the adaptors worked on it independently of the innovators, and vice versa. And at the end of that, we brought both groups together to synergise and to present their ideas to each other. And what’s fantastic is, just true to form the adapters were very focused in on how do we tighten this and how do we maybe reduce that and really tweaking to see if they could reach that success. The innovators were just all over the place, fantastic ideas, to the point “Well, we’re making this out of steel now. Maybe we can make this out of a high grade polymer, and it would take the weight off of that.” Just all these ideas, but the magic behind it is in the aspect of inclusion because when the adapters and the innovators start talking together, the adapters looked at these new ideas went, “Wow! Never thought of that before. How do we take that and incorporate it into our current structure and make it real?” And the innovators looked at some of the aspects that the adapters were presenting and went, “You know what? Never thought of that. We’ve got to pay more attention to that and not go off on a tangent because that’s really important too.”

The end result of this exercise is that we did as a group come up with some brand new ideas that we were able to actually incorporate into the front end design that did indeed take weight and cost out of the project. So it was a success.

LM: [0:14:14.1] I’d love to build on that. The beauty of what you just shared was the collaboration when both styles, adaptive creative, innovative creative have equal voices. So they were both given equal opportunity to approach it in their style, where they could shine, where they could dial up their own creative brilliance, and be heard. That is something a lot of organisations don’t do. So the problem for many organisations doesn’t lie in that ideation phase where people are having to come up with ideas. We all have lots of ideas that we’d like to share. The problem usually happens in that convergent phase when they come back and have to decide on which idea to go forward with. That’s where it becomes very difficult because those creative value systems are going in opposite directions. Remember one wants excitement, one wants success, one is risk accepting and one is risk adverse.

It would be interesting to hear how that team dealt with that decision making process at that time, because again it’s not the creation of the ideas. It’s getting the momentum of the organisation, to accept whichever idea you want to go forward with. That’s often the biggest challenge when it comes to creative diversity because it’s not just within the team or the leader, but you also have to convince the organisation to embrace it.

DH: [0:15:36.9] That’s really interesting, isn’t it? That idea of the value proposition and seeing value in other people’s contributions as well is so important, or seems to be so important from what you’re saying? You mentioned risk as well there and the acceptance or not of risk. Michael, you work in an industry where there must be a lot of discussion of risk because quite apart from the massive budgets you’re talking about, these are dangerous technologies. We all remember some famous examples where things have gone wrong. So how does that play into this in terms of the fact that you have to be aware of risk and obviously not take unnecessary risk.

MC: [0:16:22.3] Absolutely, and probably the first thing on the list of what needs to be adhered to would be the various aspects of regulatory requirements. When we look at new ideas and even ideas that have been brought together, both adaptive and innovative ideas brought together for a new value producing idea, it still needs to basically work within the construct of regulatory requirements, and it still needs to work within the construct of engineering standards. We look at impact in terms of not only engineering requirements and regulatory requirements. Obviously foremost we want to make sure that we don’t deliver something that will put any person at bodily risk and that’s real key.

But the other thing that we talk about quite a bit is financial risk. When we think about the decision analytics that go into a proposed alternative solution, we do run various scenarios to determine whether or not that solution would actually deliver the value that we’re looking for. And whether or not we can achieve the financial goals that we’re looking for in a better way. Whatever that new idea might be, it does have to basically deliver into the desired end results.

DH: [0:17:43.3] And Laura, I was thinking, the other side of that coin, that same coin that perhaps Chevron have to deal with every day in their ideation, is for maybe the tech companies and the younger companies that are around – the Googles and the Facebooks and the Twitters of this world, and that sort of thing, where perhaps there’s a lot of emphasis put on innovation and trying to break the mould and all that sort of thing. In a way do they have the opposite problem where innovation is rewarded almost too much?

LM: [0:18:18.4] I wouldn’t say too much, no. I would say they do have the opposite problem though in that assumed financial investment, or perceived financial investment is not going to be worth the emotional payoff that can happen. Whereas he’s working in highly regulated industries, many of my clients are in CPG, consumer packaged goods, or the restaurant industry where innovation is mandated continually. And unfortunately, many of those teams aren’t delivering at the level of innovation that some of their consumers desire. Some of their teams are assuming too much, that it’s going to be too risky.

Just to share an example. I had a team within a national fast food chain who was challenged with delivering new menu innovation. They were an adaptive led team, pretty much staffed with adaptive individuals with a few innovative individuals on the team. Their task was to deliver innovative products. They were somewhat safe in what they were doing. They were holding it tight to the vest in terms of what would be safe to go after. So they weren’t meeting their charge, what they were charged with doing. After looking at the KAI and their team dispersion, based off what this team needed to deliver we recommended to incorporate and shift the makeup of the team to more high innovators on the team. This allowed the team then to take on more perceived risks because innovative creatives they don’t see risk as risk. They don’t see barriers as barriers. They see them as necessary stepping stones to get to someplace different, and the team was charged with getting someplace different. Once the team makeup was more equally distributed between adaptives and innovators with some high innovators on the team, to champion some of these, ‘riskier ideas,’ the ideas output from this team changed to become more innovative, closer to what they the team was charged with doing.

And so team makeup makes a big deal on determining the type of outcome, the type of climate, the type of vernacular that the team is comfortable with embracing, doing, and outputting. Absolutely.

DH: [0:20:40.4] So before we finish, I wonder whether we could sum this up in a way. If you if you had a blank piece of paper, Michael, and you were putting together a team from scratch for a big development project, would you purposely go out of your way to try and make sure it was equally stacked as it were with innovators and adapters, and then also make sure they understood those cognitive differences between them?

MC: [0:21:08.2] Well, first of all I think laying a foundation of understanding of the strengths of cognitive styles is fundamental to getting the team aligned and working together and getting the appropriate level of sponsorship for that team and championing from the executive levels.

It’s interesting you mention this. How do styles fit best within the construct of the project approach? If we think about a traditional waterfall approach to, let’s say, a capital project, where we have a number of phases and the first phase is identifying the opportunities and looking at strategic alternatives to actually approaching the problems at hand. It just makes sense that if you have more of the innovative creatives operating at that point you get more ideas. You’ll get more of those breakthrough ideas and some new thinking around what can be done.

I like to see more of those innovative creatives on the front end, and when we get into the aspect of Okay, how do we take some of those ideas and make them real and actually build them within the construct of the engineering standards as I mentioned and within the construct of the actual physics, if you will, and everything that’s possible, I think you bring in the adapters at that point to take a look at how this new idea may fit within the construct of what’s doable from a delivery standpoint.

I’ll give you an example. Right now one of the biggest challenges in the entire industry is about lowering carbon footprint. You cannot talk to any major energy company at this point that’s involved in oil and gas that isn’t looking at the reduction of the carbon footprint very seriously and with great intent. We have some very, very, very smart people who work in this industry and we can come up with some incredible ideas. But if those ideas are not immediately doable and cannot be delivered within the construct of the framework, or the regulations, and how we need to approach projects in a safe manner, well, then they’re just ideas. And although the innovative creators really liked the ideas because the power is in the ideas themselves, it still has to be doable. So you do need to bring the adapters on board as well to see exactly how do we harness the power of those ideas and actually make them deliverable so we can actually achieve that value. And when we think about lowering carbon footprint, for instance, what are all these ideas that our experts have? How can we take that and link that to the current science and link that to what’s possible and really deliver what we want to do with respect to reduction of that carbon footprint?

DH: [0:23:50.5] I’m reminded a little bit of the old story about the architects and the engineers in the world of the built environment where the star architect comes up with some fantastic stadium or concert hall that’s basically floating on air or whatever. And then he heads over to the engineer and says, “Right, build that.” I appreciate that probably a bit of a cliché, and I’m sure it doesn’t work exactly like that but there’s probably some truth in it.

Laura, I wonder what you think about this idea that Michael mentioned then, which I find fascinating. Almost there’s a time and a place for each of those cognitive styles, and the really clever thing is to have the right people at the right time to slot into the project, as it were.

LM: [0:24:34.7] Absolutely. Yes, yes. And I’m going to add one more cog in that wheel. The people using the right language to the right audience. I’ll build on the example of I was working with a team of scientists who were charged with creating a new quality standard protocol for the entire organisation in terms of quality control. They had to sell in to a group of marketers. They were an adaptive group and they were planning on selling it through adaptive language. Meaning, this is what works, this is what we need to do, this is what’s going to make sure that we’re tight and right. From the innovative perspective it could have been perceived as very boring. So I was saying, if you guys want to go forward with this charge, your first line that you have to get through to get the green light to go forward is to get this group of marketers excited about doing this. Right now on the way that you’re presenting it they’re not going to be excited about it. You’re presenting it from an adaptive perspective to an innovative audience. So what’s the driver for the innovator? Their drivers to be excited. So that was a big ‘Aha’ for this group of scientists that they didn’t realise that they needed to change their language to get their audience excited before they could move forward in this development.

So many times it’s not necessarily about changing the idea. It’s about how you tee it up to your audience so that they can receive it appropriately – just like your example with the floating architecture. Beautiful idea, both sides can make it happen. The engineers need to be sold in a way that they know that they can be successful at it before they can move forward – just like this group of marketers needed to be excited about this quality control before they could give the green light to say, “Yeah, let’s invest the money to go and do this.” And oftentimes, we miss that. It’s about collaboration, but it’s also about language and understanding your audience to how to get them to best collaborate with you.

MC: [0:26:38.8] Well, Laura’s hitting the nail right on the head. In our business we talk about the construct or the concept of the value proposition. As we put teams together and they’re coming up with their ideas, and they get excited about what they see as the value – if you have a group of innovators that are e just absolutely excited about that blue sky thinking and the possibilities and all that sort of thing and they’re presenting that to the project champion who happens to be an adapter who’s more concerned about risk than anything else, even though that project may have incredible merit and incredible value to deliver it’s going fall on deaf ears.

So one of the things that we coach on is looking at the value proposition in terms of the recipient’s sense of value. In other words, what’s in it for me? I have certain things that I need to achieve and I need to do and so does the company and the other is values. So we have value as in what’s in it for me and values, which speak to why is this the right thing to do? So when we think about the delivery of that message, indeed like Laura says, we have to make sure that we recognise the cognitive style of the recipient of the message, make sure it’s put into the language of that particular style, and then speak to those two aspects of value and values.

DH: [0:28:01.6] Michael and Laura, thank you so much for joining us today.

You’ve been listening to the KAI podcast with our special guests, Laura Moncrieffe of Bamboo Worldwide and Michael Chuchmuch of Chevron, talking about the applications of KAI theory in product development.

If you found this discussion interesting, you can find out more about the KAI system and its first class team development potential at www.kaicentre.com. In the meantime, please subscribe and share this podcast.

Stay well and thanks for listening.




Diversity within the context of KAI

Welcome to the KAI podcast series ‘Building Better Teams and Great Leaders’.

KAI, or the Kirton Adaption Innovation inventory is the world’s foremost measure for problem solving style. It is used widely to create cohesive and productive teams and effective leaders. It’s been in use for over 40 years and is supported by a large body of academic research from around the world. In these podcasts, we aim to shine a light on the issues and problems facing all teams as they strive to be effective and productive.

In today’s episode we are going to explore the issue of diversity and how this plays out within the context of KAI.

Hosted by Dave Harries, with Dr James Anderson: Associate Professor of Leadership Education at the University of Georgia and a qualified KAI practitioner. He has over 20 years’ experience in both educational and corporate settings, with a professional focus on the creation, implementation, and evaluation of training initiatives aimed at personal and career competencies.

Dave is also joined by Dr Mary Rodriguez, an Assistant Professor of Community Leadership at The Ohio State University. She has worked in higher education since 2012 and is particularly skilled in data analysis, programme evaluation and research into community leadership. She is also a KAI practitioner.

Hosted by Dave Harries, with Dr Mary Rodriguez & Dr James Anderson.
 



Transcript - click here

DH: Dave Harries
JA: James Anderson
MR: Mary Rodriquez

DH: [0:00:00.0] Welcome to the KAI podcast series ‘Building Better Teams and Great Leaders’.

KAI, or the Kirton Adaption Innovation inventory is the world’s foremost measure for problem solving style. It is used widely to create cohesive and productive teams and effective leaders. It’s been in use for over 40 years and is supported by a large body of academic research from around the world. In these podcasts, we aim to shine a light on the issues and problems facing all teams as they strive to be effective and productive.

In today’s episode we are going to explore the issue of diversity and how this plays out within the context of KAI.

Hosted by Dave Harries, with Dr James Anderson: Associate Professor of Leadership Education at the University of Georgia and a qualified KAI practitioner. He has over 20 years’ experience in both educational and corporate settings, with a professional focus on the creation, implementation, and evaluation of training initiatives aimed at personal and career competencies.

Dave is also joined by Dr Mary Rodriguez, an Assistant Professor of Community Leadership at The Ohio State University. She has worked in higher education since 2012 and is particularly skilled in data analysis, programme evaluation and research into community leadership. She is also a KAI practitioner.

Welcome, Mary and James. It’s very good of you to join us on the podcast. I wonder if we might start by defining our terms a little bit, Mary, perhaps I could come to you first, to get you to define something, which I know is quite fundamental to KAI and that’s what we mean by ‘innovation’ in this context.

MR: [0:01:44.6] Absolutely. So innovation can be thought of in a few different ways. Especially in our everyday lives, we might think of innovation as just the development of something new. But in particular, we associate a lot of value with innovation, we think that innovation has to be really great, it has to be super different, it has to be something out of this world, something that we’ve not seen before.

And often times when we look at innovation, or when we say that person is really innovative, we associate a lot of positive attributes to that. They are creative, for instance. We use the word ‘creativity’ associated with innovation.

But here when we talk about the KAI, we want to look at it a little bit differently. According to the KAI – Kirton’s Adaptive Innovation theory – we see that somebody who is more innovative, and we use the terminology ‘more innovative’ versus ‘innovator’ or ‘innovative’ to demonstrate that they approach problem solving in a completely different way. A more innovative individual, according to KAI, is a person who looks at a problem and they look to see how can they solve this problem by making something different?

I guess in contrast, I might say that it is important to think about a person who is more innovative in their problem solving style, as opposed to someone who might be more adaptive in their problem solving style. More adaptive individuals come at the problem still very creatively, but they’re looking at it a little bit differently. They look to see how they can make the problem better, or how they can adjust what they’ve got in front of them to make it better.

So in this context, when we think about the more adaptive individuals or the more adaptive approach, or preference to problem solving, we want to think about not so much about creativity, not so much about the development of ideas that are going to be completely opposed to what we’re already doing. Rather, we think about it more in terms of how this individual is looking at how to make things different. They work a little bit outside of the structure, they work a little bit outside of the rules and regulations and policies. We’re really trying to distinguish the fact that it doesn’t necessarily mean that they’re more creative, Both types of problem solvers are creative. They’re just creative in different ways.

DH: [0:04:02.8] Okay, brilliant. I think that’s cleared that really well. So if I’ve understood it correctly, it doesn’t matter whether you’re on the adaptive end or the innovative end, you can still be creative, you’re still making a contribution. It’s just the way you do it.

So listen, we’re going to get on to talking about diversity in a minute. But before we do, I wonder if I could turn to James, and get you James to talk a little bit about Kirton’s Cognitive Schema, which sounds like a very complicated and academic theory, but I know it’s real world stuff this. So tell me what that is and then perhaps why that matters in the world of diversity.

JA: [0:04:39.0] So the cognitive function schema really talks about the relationship between an individual’s thought process, their behaviour, and how it is valued in the environment. And so for any of our educators out there, it is very similar to Bandura’s social cognitive theory where we’re talking about those personal factors, those behavioural factors, and then those environmental factors.

And so in the schema, when we talk about what’s going on in the head, what’s that cognitive function, Kirton breaks it down into three categories. He looks at cognitive resources, cognitive effect, and cognitive affect.

So when we’re looking at the cognitive affect, we’re talking about the emotions behind someone, their needs, and why they’re seeking change, and how they connect to other people in order to realise this change.

When we’re talking about cognitive resources, we’re talking about those things that they’ve learned over time and they’ve stored it, and they’re able to recall it to help with the problem solving process.

And then when we’re talking about cognitive effect, this is where AI comes into play, particularly when we’re talking about how people process that information and the approach that they use in order to solve those problems. So we were talking a little bit about their potential level or their intellect. But what KAI looks at is their preference for using this information, and so are they going to be on the more adaptive side, which means that they like to work within the structure to find solutions? Or are they going to be on the more innovative side, which means are they going to be outside that structure? They want something a little bit more loose, they’re not bound by the norms of the system.

So that’s what’s going on in the head, the psychology of it. We also have the sociology of it, which is looking at how these people interact with people around them. And so what is the social effect of the decisions that they’re making, the social effect of their style of processing problems, and the social effect of the behaviours that go along? And so that leads us nicely into the conversation of diversity.

The many times when we talk about diversity in KAI, we talk about it from the cognitive diversity of looking at your preference. Are you more adaptive or more innovative? What we need to start talking about is more of that social diversity as well. What is happening in the environment – particularly as it relates to people’s identity – because that has a huge impact on needs, on values, on beliefs, which is so much a part of how we collaborate in order to solve problems.

DH: [0:07:28.2] So do you think that it would be fair to say in that case, that w what we bring to the table in terms of our prejudices, our preconceptions, our education, or background, all those sorts of things, they have a direct effect on the way we perceive others – in this case in our team, and therefore have a real effect on the way we interact?

JA: [0:07:51.0] It has a huge effect, and it is very complex.

So the reason why I say that is number one, we’re working with our preferred style. So you have people that are more adaptive and more innovative. And then we’re working on our cognitive effect, which is what are our needs, our values? And if we have different values, different needs, different beliefs, different motives, that’s another layer of complexity. And then we add on top of that cognitive resources. What have we learned? And sometimes the society that we’re in can either enable us to learn, or they will limit us from our learning.

So all of these different complexities related to diversity is all a part of this thought of AI. And as leaders, we have to learn how to manage all of that. It’s not just managing the cognitive effect. It’s the affect, it’s the problem B, how do we interact with each other so that we can actually get to the solutions in a more efficient and effective way? Our backgrounds are so tied into our solution or a problem solving approach.

DH: [0:09:02.7] I want to come on to problem A and problem B in a sec as well and talk about that in more detail in relation to this. But before I do, Mary, is there any evidence that one’s background, the way you’re educated, the way you’re brought up, where you come from, even your ethnicity for that matter, has any effect on where you appear on the inventory?

MR: [0:09:25.4] That’s a really great question, Dave. As a matter of fact, it doesn’t. The KAI is meant to measure your preferred solving style preference, which we have found through several bouts of research to show that it is actually innate. This is something that is unique to you, as you as an individual not necessarily you as an individual as a part of a social group. And so this is where we start to separate this from culture.

When we think about culture, that’s where we shift into understanding the cognitive schema and seeing the environment’s effect on individuals in problem solving style. When we think about the KAI and diversity, this is where we start to see this intersection – a unique intersection of psychology and sociology where we could consider perhaps the brain and culture. The KAI is really primarily looking at the brain. This is really this inmate way that individuals approach problem solving in a more adaptive manner, or in a more innovative manner.

However, we need to see the impact of sociology and culture, we start to see biases, prejudice, how people perceive one another, and how people of walk through this world, their environment. All of these things start to tell us “Well, these are actually really important because you can’t separate the innate individual’s problem solving from their environment, and how they approach what’s going on in problems and teams.’

DH: [0:10:53.4] So let’s talk a little bit about the problem A and problem B part of this. So before we do that, I wonder James whether you could quickly remind us and our listeners who perhaps are not so familiar with the KAI system, of what the problem A, problem B intersection is and how that works.

JA: [0:11:10.2] Yes, I can, Dave. So within any problem solving process that we have, there are two problems actually. Kirton has labelled them problem A and problem B.

Problem A is actually the problem that we’re trying to solve. That’s the way that we’re trying to manage change. And so when we bring a group of people together to try to move us from one point to another, that focus, that initial reason and purpose for us being there problem A.

However, there’s also this problem B, and that is the issues that come about when you work with other people, those interpersonal interactions. We spend a lot of time trying to manage people and not enough time on managing the problem A. So where we’re trying to go with this, is if we understand people, if we understand how their identity plays a role in the problem solving process, if we understand who we are as leaders, then we’re better able to manage those problem B’s, those interpersonal problems, so that our team is efficient, they’re effective, and they actually really want to work together. So they’re motivated in order to get it done.

So how Kirton describes it in the problem solving process there is this group dynamic. So what do we need to do to change the group dynamics, or the problem B so that we can actually get to our purpose, the problem A?

DH: [0:12:41.4] So on the face of it, based on those excellent definitions you just gave, it seems to me that the majority of let’s say, diversity issues, if there are such things, would be in within problem B because clearly there might be prejudices there. There might be sexism, racism, ageism, whatever ‘ism’ it might be. But is that strictly true? I mean, do diversity issues come up within problem A as well?

Mary, in your experience, can problem A be affected by issues of diversity?

MR: [0:13:12.4] I think it can as a matter of fact. So problem A and the way that we approach problem A – and problem A is really just the issue at hand. What is it that we’re trying to actually address? So individuals can look at problem A very differently, depending on where they come from, their personal experiences, the challenges and / or opportunities that privileges have afforded them throughout their lives. It can really greatly affect the way that problem A is defined. And so if individuals are seeing the problem in two different ways, regardless of their preferred problem solving style, then this already creates an issue between the group and the problem, and it can also exacerbate issues between the group and individuals within the group as well, especially when they’re not even agreeing on what it is that they’re actually trying to solve.

JA: [0:14:08.0] I wanted to just give an example of something that’s real life going on in the US right now. which deals with social diversity and the way that we approach solving that problem, with problem A being an interpersonal issue. That would be the issue with the way that police are treating people of colour. So what I mean by that, is that can be that problem A of trying to find equality in the way that we interact – police and citizens interact. That is an interpersonal issue, but that at its face is the problem A for us right now. How do we address these interpersonal issues that’s going on? There are many people trying to address it in different ways. So a person who is more adaptive says, “Let’s look at the policies. Let’s look at training. Let’s look at the structure that’s currently there, and let’s make it better.”

And then you have people that may be on the more innovative side. “Well, we’ve tried policies before. Many of our police are trained, and so it’s not working. There are bigger issues. And when there is a bigger issue, there needs to be a completely different way of working with it. So let’s disrupt, let’s loosen up the structure. I don’t care if the norm is for us to follow policy. Let’s break that mould.”

And so I think that is a wonderful example of what Mary was talking about, that yes, you can have interpersonal issues in that problem A, but it has to be what you’re trying to address. And then even within that, people are going to address it in two different ways. Do we work within the system or do we break the entire system? Breaking that system can be very uncomfortable.

DH: [0:15:56.6] So given that problem A can be fraught with difficulties, in this context, in the context of diversity, it seems to me that problem B is going to be even worse – a sort of order of magnitude worse in terms of misunderstandings and prejudices and that sort of thing.

So James talk to me a little bit about problem B, and the issues that can occur within this context and how the KAI system can try and address that.

JA: [0:16:23.0] I think that the first thing that we have to understand when we’re talking about this social diversity, these cultural issues, is that we have to understand power, and the role that power plays in that. Even with the example that I just provided for you, there are multiple ways to get to the resolution that we need. The question is based on who is in power, and where do they want to take it? Many times when we’re talking about diverse groups, those that are in power have control. If the person in power is more innovative, then they will accept those more innovative approaches. If they are more adaptive, then they’re going to want those more adaptive approaches in order to solve it.

When we’re dealing with ugly issues of inequity, it’s all fair game for everyone, and so you have people of different approaches trying to do it and that’s why it becomes messy. And so I think that where our discussions should be as leaders on how we address these ill-structured problems, should be around a holistic approach of understanding power dynamics, of understanding authentic leadership, of understanding how the leader needs to have humility, how we need to promote mutual respect. All of these things go into play here.

But I think it is a discussion about how do we manage the power structures that are in this and I think that Mary, knowing the work that she does, puts a lot of emphasis in that type of discussion.

DH: [0:18:02.2] And Mary, given what James has just said, it strikes me that the approach of KAI has much wider implications for teaching us how to deal with one another in wider society than simply in the Board room or on the shop floor of a factory or wherever our team is operating. It seems to go much wider than that from what you’re both saying.

MR: [0:18:27.4] I think there’s a lot of value to understanding how people are approaching different problems, understanding whether they want to operate or they prefer to operate within the structure and really prefer to address issues through policy change or through training, as James was talking about earlier.

But I think it’s important to consider that this is just another component of understanding the individuals and how they’re approaching different problems. The reason that we’re talking about diversity today – and through the lens of KAI – is because in general the KAI doesn’t really bring in the concept of cultural and socially decided norms and values and how people approach problem solving through that lens. It’s just a different component to the bigger issue of problem solving.

I think, for example, in my work in communities, when we are trying to create change in communities and trying to help better the lives of individuals, we really have to think about how do individuals problem solve and how are they going to approach issues like food insecurity in their household? I think for instance, when you said a greater or a more broader impact, absolutely, it can really help us – but we can’t forget that there are these bigger things that are at play that create these pervasive problems like food insecurity. There are issues of inequality that exist in society that has created or has perpetuated the issues of food security for certain groups more than others. It also holds resources away from different individuals that need it most, just according to who they are in different sets of society.

And so I think that the KAI provides this additional way of looking at how to help individuals and community members work through problem solving. But this conversation and the different pieces that James just brought up are essential to consider how can we navigate these huge structural pieces within our society at the same time? It almost feels like we have to understand both of these concepts to be able to manage both of these pieces – the cognitive function of the individual and the societal implications that make problem solving so difficult and complex.

DH: [0:20:57.9] And James, it’s coming over very strongly to me that this is about the individual to a large extent, and their recognition by others as to their problem solving style, but also giving them respect, I suppose.

So talk to me about that. I know Kirton talks a lot about mutual respect and those interactions culturally. What part does that play, or what part should it play?

JA: [0:21:23.9] I think people are listening and they say, “Well, you’ve created or you’ve presented this very complex issue, and I’m one person and how do I address that?” I say, we do not address it alone. We have to address it as a group of people. So I think that the beautiful thing about KAI and about even looking at the cognitive function schema is that it provides for us a framework in which we can begin to deal with this ill structure problem. So what I mean by that is really thinking about what type of environment you want to create in the workspace that you’re in, wherever it is. How do you want to acknowledge people’s cognitive effect or their needs, their values, their motive for being there, their motive for wanting to work on the work that needs to get done?

If we situate ourselves in really addressing the problem B, about creating an inclusive space, a space where all of this diversity is appreciated – and that’s one of the things that we teach about and facilitate within KAI. We did it from the standpoint of cognitive diversity, but we want to open that discussion up and say all forms of diversity, because your preferred style, your gender, your ethnicity, your sexuality, all of those things impact cognition, and all of those things impact group dynamics, and all of those things impact the way that we will approach problems.

And so as a leader, there are two things that I want to give you when I related to when I talked about a holistic approach. The first one, as you say, was that mutual respect. And the second thing would be humility.

Within mutual respect I think about being intentional about the interactions that we have with people. That is very much like cultural intelligence. So what are we doing to really get to understand the people that we work with and to acknowledge it? We don’t want to tolerate, we don’t want people to assimilate, we want to accept. And I think that that cultural intelligence framework is a beautiful way of helping us to implement mutual respect. We’re talking about our motivation. What is our motivation to work with people that are different from us? Our cognition. What do we already know about the people that we’re working with, about their needs, about their attitudes about their beliefs? And if we don’t know it, what can we do to learn it?

And then the next one would be that metacognition or talking about what strategies? How am I going to be intentional about embracing you, intentional about using your strengths to help us to solve these problems?

And then the last thing, my behaviours. If I say that I want to be inclusive, if I say that I truly understand diversity and all its complexity, and I want to create a space where people can contribute to our problem solving in a meaningful way, then what behaviours, what actions am I doing in order to demonstrate that I want to work with people? What am I doing to address the problem Bs in our team? So that’s what I say about that mutual respect. How are we being intentional?

And then the last thing would be about our humility. As a leader, we have to really take an inward look at ourselves and know what we can do and what we can’t do. That’s why I said it’s not about you by yourself. It’s about you as a team. So often as a leader we have to put the weight on our shoulders, and we don’t have to do that. And this is where emotional intelligence comes into play. So are we truly self-aware about our limitations and do we own them? Are we self-regulating? So are we doing what we can do? Are we consistent with our behaviours? Are we making decisions that will be beneficial to all on our team or are we being selfish within those decisions?

Going back to that motivation, re we creating a space where people are driven to work together, that they want to collaborate, that they are excited about addressing that problem A? And then do we have empathy and the social skills needed to navigate when there’s conflict? Because there will be conflict, anytime there’s difference there will be conflict. But how are we navigating through that? How are we picking people that are skilled in those areas to help us to move through that?

So I think that’s where I go with saying what can we do to address the diversity issue? What we can do is come together and realise that we can’t do it on our own. There has to be some humility there, but there has to be mutual respect. And as a leader, you can facilitate that in your workspace.

DH: [0:26:10.3] Mary, finally, do you think our leaders now, or the leaders of the leaders of the future, the ones that are being trained now, are they being made aware of this type of thing? This term that James just used – ‘cultural intelligence,’ not a term that I’ve come across before, I must admit, but it’s a wonderful term, isn’t it? And it really does sum it up brilliantly. So cultural intelligence and of course that humility. I mean, are we teaching our leaders that sort of stuff?

MR: [0:26:33.5] I hope that we are. I think that as educators of leadership and community leadership, I know that we do spend quite a bit of time helping our students and our constituents that we’re working with, in my case, in communities, understanding and appreciating the diversity that people bring to the table.

So I hope that we are training individuals and future leaders to be thinking about this. I’ll just add to what James was saying. I often teach my students this concept with the terms of cultural humility. So approaching understanding individuals through you, through your humility, but also taking the time to know where they’re coming from, and taking the time and the desire to appreciate where they’re coming from. So I really hope that we are teaching our students and future leaders about mutual respect through understanding cultural intelligence and humility – because I think that is the way that we are going to address big problems in the future.

We have seen that no matter what field you’re in, no matter what area you work in, you will encounter people of different cultures and different backgrounds. You will have to work in this really diverse workforce and diverse world, so I think that those concepts are essential to helping people be successful, and helping teams be successful in their problem solving.

DH: [0:27:57.0] And James, if I could just give you the last word. I mean, are you hopeful for the future of leadership, everything we’ve talked about? Mary just made a brilliant point that we are going to be faced with this whether we like it or not as leaders. Are you optimistic that we’re going to start getting better at this?

JA: [0:28:12.7] I am optimistic. I think that everything that’s gone on from the pandemic, to shifts in political interactions across the globe, has really pushed us to a place where we have to stop and reflect and to reset. I think that we are doing it in the workplace through training. I think that we’re doing at our schools through many of the emotionally intelligent activities that they’re doing in the schools. And I think that we are doing it with even some of our adults through some of our community activities. And so I think we’re all in this place where we’re like, the way that we have done it is not working because we’re coming up against some issues. The old way is not addressing. So we have to find better ways of doing that, and the question is for each situation we’re going to approach it a different way. Are we going to approach it from a more adaptive way of really making these policies and procedures better, which has its place? Or are we going to approach it from an innovative way, saying let’s try something new? I think the answer is we have to do both.

DH: [0:29:22.2] Well, thank you both very much for sharing your wisdom with us.

You’ve been listening to the KAI podcast with our special guests, Dr James Anderson, and Dr Mary Rodriguez. If you found the discussion interesting, you can find out more about the KAI system and its first class team development potential at www.kaicentre.com.

In the meantime, please subscribe and share this podcast and thanks for listening.




Using KAI in healthcare

In today’s episode, we’re going to explore health and healthcare systems in the context of KAI and how the patient to provider relationship at the heart of all healthcare, impacts health outcomes, and what KAI can tell us about that relationship.

Hosted by Dave Harries, who is joined by two distinguished guests. Dr Megan Siebel is an Associate Director at the Centre for Cooperative Problem Solving at Virginia Tech in the United States. She is a highly experienced leadership programme director with a background in health care, she’s a registered nurse, higher education and the agricultural industry. She is a KAI Associate Fellow.

Dr Robert Samuel is a healthcare technology executive from Bluebell, Pennsylvania. He is an experienced enterprise architecture manager specialising in emerging technology and innovation in healthcare. He’s also a graduate level adjunct instructor at Penn State University, and he has been an accredited advanced KAI practitioner since 2009.

Hosted by Dave Harries, with Dr Megan Seibel & Dr Robert Samuel.



Transcript - click here

DH: Dave Harries
MS: Dr Megan Seibel
RS: Dr Robert Samuel

DH: [0:00:00.0] Welcome to the KAI Podcast Series, ‘Building Better Teams and Great Leaders.’ KAI, or the Kirton Adaption Innovation Inventory, is the world’s foremost measure for problem solving style. It’s used widely to create cohesive and productive teams and effective leaders. It’s been in use for over 40 years and is supported by a large body of academic research from around the world. In these podcasts, we aim to shine a light on the issues and problems facing all teams as they strive to be effective and productive.

In today’s episode, we’re going to explore health and healthcare systems in the context of KAI and how the patient to provider relationship at the heart of all healthcare, impacts health outcomes, and what KAI can tell us about that relationship.

My name is Dave Harries and joining me today to talk about KAI in relation to health care I have two distinguished guests. Dr Megan Seibel is an Associate Director at the Centre for Cooperative Problem Solving at Virginia Tech in the United States. She is a highly experienced leadership programme director with a background in health care, she’s a registered nurse, higher education and the agricultural industry. She is a KAI Associate Fellow.

Dr Robert Samuel is a healthcare technology executive from Bluebell, Pennsylvania. He is an experienced enterprise architecture manager specialising in emerging technology and innovation in healthcare. He’s also a graduate level adjunct instructor at Penn State University, and he has been an accredited advanced KAI practitioner since 2009.

Welcome both of you to the podcast. So popular culture is full of medical dramas that invariably, if not always insightfully, explore aspects of this patient to provider relationship. One of my favourites of the last decade or so has been the American medical drama, ‘House,’ where a misanthropic but brilliant a doctor played by Hugh Laurie successfully leads his team of diagnostic experts to relieve and cure numerous mysterious illnesses, despite his complete lack of bedside manner and a rather jaundiced view of the world and most of his colleagues and patients as well.

I wonder, Megan, and Robert, if this rather extreme fictional version of a medical practitioner can tell us anything useful about the challenges of that patient to provider relationship?

Megan, maybe I can get you to comment on that?

MS: [0:02:21.9] Sure. I think a character like that exemplifies extreme personality aspects, of course. But we know that it also takes teams of individuals in order to solve complex situations and address complex patient dynamics, diagnoses, medical mysteries, if you will.

One of the things that’s particularly interesting about Kirton’s Adaption Innovation theory is that we know that it takes both adopters and innovators to dance in that really complex problem solving space. And we need to figure out what team dynamic looks like so that as the situation adjusts itself over time, and new bits of pieces of information emerge, we can actually leverage different individuals as leaders in that space so that we can do something with that.

So I would characterise Dr House’s character as somebody who’s maybe expressing some of the characteristics of more extremely innovative or highly innovative individuals from a preference standpoint, as far as thinking differently about things, disrupting norms and expectations, asking a lot of questions, perhaps disregarding other people in his wake. And yet, at the same time in order to do something with that information, other people will have to come in and be able to put those bits and pieces back together. So it’s an interesting dance to watch unfold and I think there’s a lot to be said for where that leaves patients and families even in that dynamic when they’re working with their doctors to figure things out.

DH: [0:03:53.8] And his best friend, or his only friend really, is a fellow doctor, an oncologist who I would guess on the face of it, it’s probably at the opposite end of the spectrum in terms of the KAI theory. They’re supposed to be based on Holmes and Watson from Sherlock Holmes stories and that sort of thing. Robert, I’m making a bit of a joke of it, but do you think there’s useful things in there that we can learn?

RS: [0:04:18.9] Oh, absolutely, and ‘House’ is one of my favourite shows of all time. I think that the unconventional portrayal that he shows in the medical system and the challenges that he introduces towards the hospital rules and procedures, exemplifies this thinking of we are waiting for them to come up with this ‘Aha!’ moment. We’re all sitting on the edge of our seats, watching the show, waiting for House to come up with this ‘Aha!’ moment.

Now, in real life, most of the time as a patient, you’re not waiting for a physician, a doctor, someone in the medical industry to come up with that ‘Aha!’ moment. You want them to have a protocol, a set of rules, a set of predictable manner. So I think, the role of Watson in the show comes across as that what we’re predicting is that constant, reliable heuristic style of clinician that we come to look for in our engagements. And so you get this nice balance and from an AI theory perspective, we like to see these interactions as a balance of what’s needed in the overall problem solving approach within healthcare system.

DH: [0:05:43.6] That’s true, isn’t it, Megan, and I think when most of us go to the doctor, we probably go a little bit reluctantly, and we assume the doctor, or the healthcare professional we’re seeing, will have all the answers at their fingertips. So I suppose in that sense ‘House’ isn’t particularly a common occurrence for most of us. But talk to me a little bit about what’s going on when we first encounter our health care provider, and the sort of things you know that that happened to us then in our interaction.

MS: [0:06:12.1] So as individuals, any time we’re faced with an unknown – perhaps it’s a anticipation of a diagnosis, a treatment that’s been suggested to us that we may or may not be familiar with, sometimes even what seems like a counterintuitive conversation around what we feel like we’re experiencing in our own selves in our own bodies and what the medical practitioner is saying test results are revealing, or what they have seen in their experience – that perception of change is very individual, and how we are viewing that as minor manageable or perhaps catastrophic in what’s being conveyed, influences how well we listen, how receptive we are to that, and how willing we are to follow what has been indicated and prescribed.

And depending on how that’s being presented to us, and the doctor’s perception of what it is that’s going on, there sometimes can be a mismatch or an imbalance there. Hopefully, throughout this conversation we’ll get into a little bit about how people cope with that gap and how motivated they are to figure out ways to overcome that. But what we do know is that in order to develop any sensibility around belief or willingness to do what is being asked of us, and develop the insight that it takes in order to do that, so that we can take that into the future moving forward, is very motive dependent. There really needs to be a combination of what is being told and asked of us, sort of that external motivation, and then where we are ourselves going into that situation with the ability to gather our own information, and so to speak put our own structure around what it is we’re trying to understand to make best use of it for ourselves, that will also help us drive that internally.

DH: [0:08:03.3] It’s very interesting that you talk there in terms of motivation. I must admit that it’s not something that had occurred to me that that would be a factor in it. But I guess it is.

Robert, I know that you talk about four attributes that impact collaboration and the results of that collaboration. I wonder if you could talk to me a little bit about those? Tell me what they are and why they matter.

RS: [0:08:22.2] Absolutely. So I investigate the relationship between cognitive style, the manner by which we solve problems and how we use technology in collaborating with others. And I’ve discovered that there’s four basic attributes that impacts this relationship, and it varies based on your cognitive style and your perspective of these four attributes. But the attributes are confidence, and that is how we continuously use technology for its purpose, or don’t use it continuously.

We also have expectancy and that is who selected this tool? Who selected this technology? Is it someone of authority or is it myself? Is it an individual choice?

We then have the dependency and it’s all about reliability. I’m sure all of us have yelled at our computers or yelled at our phones and said awful things about it because it hadn’t been reliable. There’s a trust relationship that we build with these devices on how well they perform, and then there’s the risk control, which is how technology is used either for a singular purpose, or it’s a Swiss Army knife or multiple use kind of technology.

And all these attributes weigh in on Kirton’s concept of managing coping behaviours, because the way we operate in society and our risk acceptance for change is all reflected in In our style, and across these attributes when we collaborate through technology working with others,

DH: [0:10:04.0] So tell me about how that affects us in the healthcare environment specifically.

RS: [0:10:09.9] Well, I can’t think of a greater example than 2020 and the challenges that we’ve had with the COVID pandemic, and how a large majority of our interactions with our caregivers and providers, the doctors have gone to virtual telemedicine, remote monitoring. All these other technologies are being inserted in the interface, the interaction between us as patients and the providers themselves.

DH: [0:10:39.6] So, Megan, I appreciate exactly what Robert was saying there about technology getting in the way and how we deal with that, and those four attributes that Robert has identified. But talk to me a little bit more about perhaps that relationship in normal times in terms of the coping behaviours that Kirton talks about and how we use those in this interaction between us and our caregivers.

MS: [0:11:05.6] Absolutely. So regardless of whether it’s what we call normal times – although I’m not sure any of us know what normal is anymore, -or what our new normal might be, or in times of chaos and great uncertainty, the way in which individuals interact with that environment around them and the behaviours that they exhibit, we know is at all times some combination of what their own comfort level is around their preferred style of approaching the problem.

So when we talk about KAI for example, we know that it is how individuals generate ideas, how they implement those ideas, and how they respond to rules and group expectations, and utilise their own internal structures, which could even just be their understanding to do that. Anytime we’re interacting in that way then, we are coping to some degree to figure out where those differentiations are between our understanding or our needs, and what’s being presented, regardless of whether or not it’s a normal time or chaotic time.

And so it’s really interesting to think through how we drive through that, so when you think about the four attributes, when those were laid out it really resonates along the lines of how people approach those situations and cope through those. So, for example, the idea of if expectancy and as the selection of whatever it is that’s being presented to us – a technology or a treatment, for example, coming by somebody else, or is it something we’ve selected for ourselves, influences how motivated we may or may not be to engage with it. We know that an aspect of our behaviour and our exhibition of what it is that we do in problem solving space has to do with how risk tolerant we are. And so the idea of using something that is tried and true and reliable and has lots of documentation that we can jump on the internet and research for ourselves, or whether or not it’s just intriguing enough to be the first one out of the gate to try it. And I think it’ll be interesting to see how people respond, for example, in a time of stress with these new COVID, vaccines and things that are coming online. Other than the people who it will be intentionally administered to first, who is next in line to want to try it first, and who is a little bit more sceptical of some of the unknown pieces?

So when you think through those attributes, or really anything we’re doing in that practitioner patient dynamic, there’s a certain amount of unpacking that needs to be done on both sides in order to have people engage with what is being recommended of them.

RS: [0:13:36.5] Megan, you know, I think back about on the ‘House TV show. One of the most comical relief aspects is every time House has to do that walk in clinic, how many ways he tries creatively to avoid doing that responsibility, and the coping that he is exhibiting there, I think some listeners can relate to that because we all at times don’t necessarily have the motive to do something and we try to creatively find ways to use the rules or work around the rules to avoid doing something unless there was some other higher level motive that we want to exhibit in why we want to do it.

MS: [0:14:17.4] Well, in a way you think about that as managing expectations. So if we need to approach each of these situations and we think about learning as the ability to develop some sort of insight as to what might happen, or develop our own knowledge and internal resources in order to deal with that, when we’re trying to navigate those spaces and think through what it is we want to convey and accomplish flanked with what we think the person we’re about to approach might be acting like or asking of us, and the song and dance that goes without anticipating and negotiating that space in that relationship, it makes us either want to walk straight into one and just engage right away or really be a little bit more cautious because we would do anything other than go into that situation if we could.

DH: [0:15:02.6] I want to ask you now about something that’s probably quite specific to the health provider patient relationship, and that is the issue of anxiety and stress and emotion that often goes with being ill. We’re in a situation where we need to use the healthcare system, we need the help of a medical practitioner whoever that may be. And we’re already presumably in a situation where we’re not particularly happy, let’s say, because we’re trying to figure out what’s wrong with us, hoping that there’s going to be a cure and all that sort of thing. And obviously, depending on the degree of that anxiety, there’s going to be some interesting interactions that happen there. So I suppose what I’m saying is, is there any evidence that if you go to your care provider and they are similar to you in terms of the KAI scale, is there evidence that that’s going to be an easier process for you?

MS: [0:16:05.8] So we know that in times of stress, people’s emotions will outrun their ability to think rationally, and we think from our emotional selves in duress before we can rationalise through things.

So in healthcare we used to say on the clinical side – I worked in a high stakes area where it was paediatric oncology and so you’re delivering test results and talking with families about a terminal illness that their child has and what those end of life decisions look like sometimes. And so in that type of a situation, when things are that stressful, you need to say whatever you need to say from a clinical side as much as ten times over and in ten slightly different ways in order for it to really resonate and be heard because people are in different spaces when they’re processing through that, or they’re comparing it to different bits and pieces of information.

One of the things we know from Adaption Innovation theory is that the less cognitive gap there is, -so this more similar style about idea generating or putting those things into practice or understanding what the expectations of the situation are – the less gap there is there. So the more similarity perhaps between a practitioner and a patient or their family, then the more comfortable it is to think inside of those spaces. And so it stands to reason – and I’m not sure of evidence that’s out there -but it does stand to reason that at least if the approach seems somewhat similar, then it’s easier to engage people in that space mentally so that they can be rational even in times when they really are being emotional at the same time.

DH: [0:17:45.4] And Robert, by contrast, if the health care provider is a very different problem solver to you, is there evidence to suggest that affects outcomes or the way people approach health care and that sort of thing?

RS: [0:17:58.8] Yes. So many of us have our own personal health journeys to share, and a lot of us have family and friends and co-workers that also have these stories to share. And often, we do see where different styles are involved and sometimes when they’re similar.

I can’t tell you about research that I did over a decade ago, that was in a different space, it was in the academic space, but it translates well to the healthcare space. During your graduate studies, you’re dealing with advisors and reviewers, either doing a thesis or dissertation. and I found it during a study that I did, that as time progressed and the assignment requirements also increased, we often saw either people well-aligned to their advisor because they had similar styles, or we saw a gap between their styles and coping behaviours became more and more obvious.

So more emotions, more anxiety, more interactions of conflict developed. And so when I talk to people about selecting a team and working with others, finding people that are similar in your general approach to risk and your cognitive style, and in the way that you view rules and structure will help minimise the amount of tension in your interactions. However, you have to question. are you addressing the full aspect of the problem at hand? Are you having a breath of different people at your disposal to address the complexities of the problems that we’re addressing? Things that require a lot of detail and research and also those that require us to think a little bit beyond our current guidelines and structure that we have today.

DH: [0:19:59.3] So there could potentially be a paradox there. From the patient’s point of view you might hope for a care provider that is similar to you in their problem solving style, but you might be better off if you’ve got people who are not particularly similar to you or perhaps a range of people in the team that’s looking after you they’re more likely to come up with good solutions. Is that a good interpretation?

RS: [0:20:21.7] Absolutely. Kirton further attests it’s the management of diversity. A lot of times in the healthcare system you will see what is typically known as an advocate. And advocates are either paid individuals that help you navigate the system, or they’re your family and friends that are your support group. And a lot of times, you will see that advocate being a willing and able partner to help you what Kirton referred to as bridge between the different styles within a team. And they help to manage that gap between styles. often between also knowledge, and also between their ability to collaborate and trust others, because you have a bridge or who’s acting on your behalf and trying to find the middle discussion area for these complex interactions.

MS: [0:21:16.4] I might add, I think that piece, and the idea of bridging and even where you bring up paradox, we’ve been intentional about not implying that that happens more with people who are highly innovative or more highly adaptive, or anywhere in the middle. Those gaps can really occur anywhere along that continuum and throughout those relationship dynamics. And I think one of the things that’s fascinating about this idea of where you say there’s a paradox, we really do theoretically call it the paradox of structure because no matter what the structure is – and it could be somebody’s idea about something, research they’ve done about their health situation on the Internet, a protocol a doctor is following, the use guidelines around a certain type of prescriptive medicine, for example – those are enabling to some people and limiting to others period, across the board, no matter what.

I think it would be, a cautionary piece is to not assume that highly innovative patients are going to go rogue and ignore their doctors or highly innovative doctors are going to try new things without thinking about the needs of the more adaptive individual that’s in that scenario.

I was speaking with somebody recently who has a fairly strong preference for adaption, likes to know what’s going on, likes to follow the rules, and also has a deference to authority, where I think in patient and doctor relationships we see that a lot where patients are expected to defer that power and that role of caregiver to the doctor. And yet at the same time, she questioned everything the doctor was asking of her because she didn’t understand the reason that it was being asked. And so regardless of where people are on that, they’re going to ask or put in place more information where they need it and more structure, if you will, and then other people will loosen that up so that they can best navigate that system and feel like they have some independence.

And so that can happen anywhere along that continuum within those relationship dynamics, which makes it very exciting and yet very complex to think about at the same time.

RS: [0:23:18.7] Yeah, Megan, I had a similar situation. I finished a course and one of my students reached out to me afterwards and told me her very personal story, how she was bedridden during this entire course that I was teaching them around KAI. She shared the complexities of the support structure that she had, and she really felt that she had a better understanding of why others were challenging her and why she didn’t accept other’s ideas – everything from what food was being prepared for her during breakfast, lunch and dinner by her mother in law. She was, “That’s not what I asked for. That’s not what I want.” It didn’t develop that trust, but then after exposure and talking about these situations and the different aspects of style, she started to get a better appreciation.

I think that that complexity of the interactions really manifests itself in a level that Kirton really identified within the theory that helps with a framework of understanding.

MS: [0:24:27.9] It’s really enlightening when we realise how profound the understanding of that framework is, and what we can attribute to cognitive style differences and how we’re approaching situations that aren’t about a person’s ability or knowledge or attitude or personality. I mean, there’s other things there that allow us to resituate ourselves and reground ourselves. I love that. That’s a great example. Rob thanks.

DH: [0:24:53.9] I wonder whether KAI has anything to tell us about something that’s a very current issue with the pandemic and everything, and that is the anti-vax, anti-science, anti-medical things that go on in social media and that sort of thing, where people are convinced that they shouldn’t allow them any medical intervention for whatever reason, whether it’s a conspiracy theory or whatever. Is there anything KAI has to say about that?

MS: [0:25:21.0] It’s a conundrum, and it’s really thought provoking to think about, but the anti-vax movement, I think, has been around for a while for different things. It used to be the old vaccines that had mercury based preservatives were going to give your child autism, and now it’s these things that are unknown, that are coming out of a lab faster than the speed of light, decades faster than would be normally possible. And so what is it that’s in there, and the conspiracy theories and things that go with that?

I think what we can think about structurally is the vaccine is an example of a structural implication that has been asked and imposed and offered. And how people navigate and accept that is the part that’s interesting to watch. I’ve spoken with a lot of people who have made the assumption that more innovative individuals – so the ones that more easily bend the rules, so to speak, or think around the rules – are the ones who are not wearing masks or not worrying about social distancing, or those kinds of things. And yet, I find it on the other end of the spectrum too where it’s people who are normally very system oriented, but they don’t like the person that’s imposing it, or they feel like it’s not a structure that they have agreed to, so they don’t need to follow it. And vaccines and taking vaccines, I think, are an example of what happens when information spreads like wildfire. There’s so much information, and so many points of view that are expressed readily on the internet and through social media, that it’s harder to discern which are fact based and which are story based, which are expert driven and which are layman driven. And there’s a lot of unpacking that needs to be done there.

I don’t know. There’s not a simple answer to that, because I think there are anti-vaxxers across that KAI continuum so to speak, but for different reasons, because of how they are viewing the structure. Either they’re going to do it their own way, or they’re going to agree to it or not.

RS: [0:27:18.6] Generally, if you look at the acceptance of any new medical or health care approach, the data is what drives a lot of the decision making and also protocols. And I think people want that data for their own health knowledge. If you look at how many times people use Google or Web MD, or any of those other internet sites to search for the information and they’re asking friends, there comes into this kind of process by which we all go through. We look at the problem and then we do this divergent kind of action where we start collecting data and information from others and then we converge it together and try to solidify it for ourselves and then we start addressing what the potential solution could be. This happens if you look at the vaccines, if you look at new treatments, if you look at new technology rolling into healthcare, it all happens over a cyclical time within the healthcare industry.

And so there is a kind of a constant challenge of introducing new approaches, along with new social and economical intake or a perception of the challenges that we have. So while the vaccine itself is new to us at the magnitude by which we’re looking at it at a global level, we have seen instances at a smaller level of other approaches, and having similar resistance and similar attitudes towards the newer approaches and protocols and techniques.

MS: [0:29:07.2] So I think that data piece is really interesting to unpack as well from the standpoint of, we know stylistically more adaptively, more innovatively, people frame the information, ie the data, in a way that makes sense to them in order to be able to use it. But we also know cognitively that there’s this primary filter with how we take information in, in order to make sense of it, that is very much driven by our beliefs and our experiences and our ideas about things. And so when we take into consideration those factors, it further compounds it because even though the data may be based on very good science and tell us that this is a safe thing to do, it’s a good thing to do, it is an effective thing to do – at the end of the day, individuals will finally make that judgement call based on religious beliefs, philosophical assumptions. I’ve seen evidence for example with families who refused to vaccinate their children, even though if one of them brought an illness home from school, it might be catastrophic for their immunosuppressed child who was on treatment, or families that refused to have blood transfusions or bone marrow transplants for their child because it was against their religious beliefs even though they knew the science was good.

And so I think that’s where we end up in this more complex situation of it being the healthcare system against the world, and all of the individuals and their personal beliefs that they ascribe to, complicating their acceptance of that science.

DH: [0:30:41.4] Well, thank you both very much for such a thought provoking conversation. And thank you also for reminding me how much I enjoyed ‘House.’

You’ve been listening to the KAI podcast with our special guests, Dr Megan Seibel and Dr Robert Samuel talking about the patient to provider health care relationship in the context of KAI. If you found the discussion interesting, you can find out more about the KAI system and its first class team development potential at www.kaicentre.com. In the meantime, please subscribe and share this podcast.

Stay well and thanks for listening.




How insightful leaders build high performing teams

In today’s episode we’re going to explore team leadership and in particular how insightful leaders build high performance teams.

Hosted by Dave Harries, with Dr Curt Friedel & Rob Sheffield.

Dr Curt Friedel


Rob Sheffield


Dave Harries


Dr Curt Friedel is Associate Professor and Director of the Centre for Co-operative Problem Solving at Virginia Tech in the USA where he is also the Director of the KAI Certification Course.

Rob Sheffield has 25 years of experience in leadership development. Rob helps leaders enable innovation in their teams.

Transcript - click here

DH: Dave Harries
CF: Dr Curt Friedel
RS: Rob Sheffield

DH: [0:00:00.0] Welcome to the KAI Podcast Series. Building better teams and great leaders.

KAI or the Kirton Adaption Innovation Inventory is the world’s foremost measure for problem solving style. It’s used widely to create cohesive and productive teams and effective leaders. It’s been around for about 40 years and is supported by a large body of academic research from around the world. In these podcasts we aim to shine a light on the issues and problems facing all teams as they strive to be effective and productive.

In today’s episode we’re going to explore team leadership and in particular how insightful leaders build high performance teams.
My name is Dave Harries and joining me from the United States and Britain are two people who are going to help us answer that question.
Dr Curt Friedel is Associate Professor and Director of the Centre for Co-operative Problem Solving at Virginia Tech in the USA, where he is also the Director of the KAI Certification Course. Rob Sheffield is a UK based author, consultant and trainer with over 25 years in leadership development. His book ‘How Leaders Learn to Boost Creativity in Teams innovation Catalysts’ came in 2019.

Welcome both of you to the podcast. I wonder if I could start with you, Curt, with a quick reminder of what the Kirton Adaption Innovation inventory actually is.

CF: [0:01:24.9] Yes, We were talking about adaption and innovation. In the broader sense about how adaption contrasts with innovation with respect to style.

So, to give an example. If a system isn’t working, say it’s a system around quality of product. To ensure quality of product, the more adaptive prefer to tweak the system to make it better and the more innovative would prefer to think differently enough to swap out the system. We each have a preferred style to solving problems that we can measure with the KAI either more adaptively or more innovatively. When we use the KAI we know that one’s KAI scores are independent of intelligence, independent of motivations, values, culture, ethnicity etc. Many measures of capacity. So when we’re using the KAI we know we’re measuring problem solving style and if a team isn’t working well, we can attribute it accordingly.

The KAI measures one’s preferred problem solving style on a continuum between 32 and 160. We each have a score and a score in the case if we’re more adaptive or more innovative. There’s no better score. It’s a non-pejorative scale so there’s no better style than the other. It follows a normal distribution, the average is 95. So if someone scores between 95 and 160 they prefer to be more innovative in their problem solving style, and if they score between 95 and 32, they tend to be more adaptive.

DH: [0:03:00.4] Okay, well thank you very much for summing that all up for us, Curt. Rob, I wonder if I could turn to you now and ask you about how the KAI method relates to leadership in general and innovation in particular.

RS: [0:03:13.5] Thanks, Dave. It’s great to be here by the way, and good to be doing this with you and Curt. I think it’s just a fascinating area, all this, isn’t it? Curt’s just given a description, a definition of this inventory we’re going to talk about today, Adaptive Innovation.

All of us have… You probably come to be listening to this with a view about innovation. It’s very topical, maybe it’s even hyped as a topic. Most people think innovation is a good thing, and it’s often pretty difficult to get them doing it, what is actually innovative and what isn’t. So in true will, we’ll probably get into a bit of that as we go along as well.
I think one of the reasons why it’s part of the leadership agenda now is that it seems that the complexity of work has been increasing just as a bit of a rule of thumb over the last decade or so. But survey after survey seems to say that a reasonable complex work to be done. So that work could mean continually thinking about what’s value for our customers, a chance to look at products, services, business models, processes, etc, experience and so on. And that work is difficult work. There is no single right answer to it. So what seems to be happening is diverse teams are being set up to deal with that work because it needs a range of views on how to deal with it.

Those teams may be geographically separated, they’ll certainly deliberately different perspectives to deal with the complexity of that work, and that – and I’m sure we’ll get into it – raises a lot of implications for the leadership and getting the best out of that team. So I think that’s part of the context of why innovative leadership is on the agenda more than it was a handful of years ago.

DH: [0:05:14.4] And could I ask, given that we talk about innovation so much in generally a very positive way – leaders particularly, who are seen as innovators are regarded, I think, positively. Does that mean if you are somewhere down at the lower end of the scale – so you’re an adaptor in other words, is there a danger that we’re saying, “Oh, well, if you’re an adaptor, you can’t be a leader?” I’m sure that’s not true but is there a danger people might interpret that way? What do you think about that, Curt?

CF: [0:05:44.0] As we’re defining innovation in the KAI system, it is about style. In part of the culture we speak about innovation and in terms of capacity. In my opinion this might be a controversial statement, but I believe the word ‘innovation’ is being overused. We tend to throw the word ‘innovation’ here and there. So and so is innovative. That idea is innovative, but when we contrast innovation with adaption – and that’s what we do with KAI – the word ‘innovation’ has a bit more meaning.

We can look at innovation and true innovation – that is looking at style and how something might be new – and that is a different system or a different thing, a different idea. But we can also have adaptive new or I should say adaptive new ideas that when we work on a system or want to develop something new, it can be adaptive because we’re tweaking on something. We’re adding more detail, we’re adding more structure. We get bogged down with this word ‘innovation’ and we do a lot of work educating here at Virginia Tech on helping people understand the difference.
You’re correct, Dave. There is no better style. Someone can be very adaptive, very creative, very intelligent, very passionate about their work. They just prefer to solve the problem differently, and we tend to look over that with this present culture of preferring innovation.

DH: [ 0:07:14.0] Okay, so if I understand that correctly, by the popular definition of innovation, adaption is a form of innovation and that’s basically our starting point.

CF: [0:07:25.3] Yeah, that’s the way you could say it.

DH: [0:07:27.7] So, listen, we’re talking about insightful leaders, building high performance teams today. So let’s start specifically on that conversation by trying to define what is a high performing team. It seems to me that lots of people might have different views about this.

Rob, I wonder whether you could address that first. What do you think of as a high performing team and is there a single definition or is that not very helpful?

RS: [0:07:53.0] I think there isn’t a single definition, Dave. First of all I would say probably most leaders they don’t rigorously determine what performance means. I think that’s part of the truth, but the ones that do, they will always look at performance in context. It’s all down to the context of the work of the team, isn’t it? And some teams may be more quantifiably measurable, so if we’re dealing with sales teams or negotiation teams we can get some kind of financial sense of teams outperforming each other. Most teams don’t have those obvious objective figures leaping out, so there’ll need to be some kind of agreement about what performance means. It might be time, it might be quality, it might be cost, it might be other indications, but I think we’ll get onto insights and what makes a leader insightful.

To me, there’s always something about them working out what performance means in their context and that’s got to include stakeholder perceptions. We’ve all been led and most of us have led as well. The importance of managing our own boss is key, and possibly the boss’ boss, but also peers and so on and so on.

So I think my experience is there’s a huge amount of subjectivity in performance, but an insightful leader will try to get some agreement around all of that.

DH: [0:09:26.1] And Curt, in terms of looking at a high performance team, do the general rules apply to any team? Obviously there’s lots of different types of teams. At one end there’s a sports team, a football team. At the other end there’s a marketing team or a product development team. Does it matter? Do the general rules of the KAI system apply to all teams, would you say?

CF: [0:09:52.9] Yes, I think they really do. That’s what makes Adaption Innovation theory and the KAI so robust, is it does apply to a lot of principles associated with team work and the science of teams.

A great example is a study that was done by Google called Project Aristotle. Project Aristotle was named after, I believe, under the idea that Aristotle was quoted as saying that the sum of the parts is greater than the whole. But Google Project Aristotle was looking at what makes the perfect team? They looked at a whole host of variables such as gender, age, different personality indicators, how often they met as a team, did they socialise outside the team? And what they found was that a lot of those variables do not make the difference, but there was thing that continually showed up time and time again as what makes an effective team. That was a safe space for people to share ideas without judgment, without negativity towards the person and that requires two things in my mind – respect and humility.

When we apply to the KAI system, we need to have mutual respect of each other on a team. So I know your KAI score, you know mine and we know where we are at, and know how we can work together. I know your limits and you know my limits, but it’s also humility at recognising I know where my limits are and I don’t always have the best idea. Someone else might have a better idea that could work better.

DH: [0:11:31.3] So a lot of it’s about valuing other members of your team and having a bit of knowledge about what their KAI score is can help you with that valuation presumably?

CF: [0:11:41.1] Yeah, it all goes back to self-awareness.

DH: [0:11:42.5] So, Rob, how do you think, in your experience of working with teams, how are most teams actually formed? Presumably you don’t normally sit down and say, “Right, well, we want somebody who’s 115 and we want somebody else who’s 78 and so on and so forth.” Tell me a little bit about that aspect of real life, as it were.

RS: [0:12:04.7] I think that’s right, Dave, Well, first of all, if you join an organisation or move within an organisation, you probably inherit the team that you land with. Of course, you might then form project teams where you do have a bit more latitude about which people to put together. But I think from most leaders, it’s probably a bit of a combination of this is the team I’ve got and these are the people I’ve got. How can I learn more about them and them learn more about me? I’m sure there’s a lot to these people I just don’t know, so there’s that kind of understanding and exploring, but I think there also can be opportunities, like we say with transformational teams, with project teams, to think about the composition of the team.
I’d also say that maybe things are shifting a bit in that direction as well. If we go back to this more recent trend, but actually there’s a bit more thought going into it now – trying to match the complexity of the work with the complexity of the team. That means diverse teams.

I mean, truthfully, for most of my corporate life things weren’t like that. I’ve been running the business for about 20 years and I’ve seen much more of that over the last decade. So I think that thoughtfulness possibly in medium and larger sized organisations where they have the potential to mix and match people, I think it’s going on more now because the difficulty, the complexity of the work demands it.

It’s interesting Curt talking about the Google example and psychological safety. There’s a lot that’s been about psychological safety by a Professor at Harvard called Amy Edmondson. She’s written a book called ‘The Fearless Organisation.’ One of the things she’s saying is she has noticed searching for the term ‘psychological safety’ increase a lot through Google and other search engines. It’s increased a lot over the last five years. She thinks it’s because a lot of work’s now being done where people simply don’t know the answer. In order to do that sort of work you have to bring different people together, and that means in a way you have to make it safe. If you start by people not knowing each other, but you bring them deliberately for their difference you have to provide some psychological safety. So maybe the landscape is changing a bit around this.

DH: [0:14:30.4] So when we talk about an insightful leader as we have done in the title of this podcast, are we talking about a person who recognises all that and can therefore create that safe psychological space for his team?

CF: [0:14:47.3] Yeah, I think insightful leaders do recognise the value of teams, that teams generally speaking, give you the better idea. It could take a little bit longer to come up with that better idea but it’s worth it. It’s worth the time.

And I think insightful leaders know how to build that mutual respect, build that trust in the realm of psychological safety. I also think insightful leaders are good at realising they know who they are and they know they need to hire someone, and that person should not be thinking like they do. It’s very often we’re not self-aware that I think to myself, “Well, I’m innovative, this is how I think and I’m pretty smart so I should hire people who think like me.” That’s not what we teach and it’s not what we want. We should be hiring a diversity of people.

I think some people do definitely get it. Even if they’ve never heard of KAI or the Adaption Innovation theory, they recognise that I can be really bad at something and that’s okay. I can hire someone to cover that for me and move forward with the team.

DH: [0:15:56.5] Yeah, I’m really interested in this use of the phrase ‘self-aware.’ Traditionally, I think, a lot of leaders have probably felt under pressure – probably some still do – to be perfect, to be good at everything, and to lead.

I remember talking to an around the world skipper about this, taking an amateur crew round the world in huge, dangerous situations and him realising that his leadership got much more effective when he realised he couldn’t do everything and that he did need help. So that’s very interesting.

Rob, if you have a leader who is self-aware, let’s make that assumption, and they inherit a team, as you said – they come into a new job or they get given a team that perhaps isn’t so self-aware or perhaps has been dysfunctional in the past, what can that self-aware, that insightful leader do? What are the steps he or she can take to improve that team?

RS: [0:16:59.0] I think of an example here. I did some work with Donna a couple of years ago, and I somebody I know well. Donna was running a UK business that served and supported SMEs in the UK and they provided employee benefits packages to SMEs. So in a way they tried to help those organisations with their employee retention and Donna is pretty innovative. She’s in the top quarter on the continuum that Curt talked about earlier, so she’s a strong innovator and she realises she gets energised by thinking about strategy and vision. The context was that her wider business that identified a lot of growth potential for the SME market and that really excited her. She could see very quickly she could join the dots and see the potential.

Her team hadn’t been through this kind of change scale before and I think she was a bit frustrated about the pace of change. Anyway, we did a KAI exercise with Donna and the team. In retrospect it was obvious that Donna was a strong innovator, the rest of the team were more adaptive – bang around the middle of the continuum but also some strong adaptors. So, for them, the pace that she wanted to move at was a little too much, but also it’s hard to disagree with the boss when the boss is excited. You don’t want to be the one bursting the balloon.

So I think there was a bit… you can sense the emotions all around, but Donna is very self-aware and she realised all of that. She understood it, and the short thing is she realised she needed to get somebody who could bring the team along with her at a more day to day level. She recruited somebody who was a moderate adaptor I would say – this person, having met her a couple of times – who could really translate some of the broad aims of the strategy and the vision into every day terms for people. And also was able to talk it through with them and talk in more operational language. It made a massive difference. The things that you and Curt have been talking about. Donna has got lots of humility.

It’s not nice-y, nice-y leadership this, because it’s all about really accurately understanding yourself and Donna really knows her strengths and she wanted to use her strengths, and her strengths were needed. What she realised was it would be difficult for her to be everything, and she didn’t need to. So growth was happening, some investment was possible, she was able to recruit somebody and that person did, and is, doing a terrific job.

DH: [0:19:54.6] Presumably that, the members of the team, if they embrace and understand the implications of where they are on the continuum, then they’re going to be more in that case perhaps accepting of Donna’s enthusiasm for change and that sort of thing because they’ll understand a bit more about where she’s coming from.

CF: [0:20:16.0] Absolutely. We have a term for it which seems to address the issues of ‘okay, I understand you a little bit better now and I understand me a little bit better now. I know this is different from motive and intelligence so now that we have a term for it, we can call it what it is and we can work around it and work with it.’ That’s huge for a team to move forward and make progress.

DH: [0:20:41.7] I remember chatting to a guy who used to be in charge of the Red Arrows, which is the British flying team that is quite famous throughout the world. Obviously, again, it’s a very dangerous thing to do as a team. You’ve got to be very highly trained and work very well together. He was telling me that during the debrief sessions after every demonstration – he is the leader, he’s the first one to stick his hand in the air and say, “I got that wrong. I got that wrong. I’ll do that better next time, really sorry about that.” So he provided that psychological space that we were talking about earlier for everybody else to then say, “It’s okay. If the boss admits he got it wrong, then it’s okay for me to admit I got it wrong.” Is that an example of an insightful leader?

RS: [0:21:23.6] For sure. In a way, a lot of these principles we’re talking about, they can begin without the use of adaptive innovation. It’s a measure of the way in which we think and there are huge differences in the way we think.

I give you a very dramatic example of something I remember from the late 90s when I worked in aerospace. We had had a really difficult time with the previous manager. Most of the team had left. I joined the company about six months ago. I was beginning to think, “Maybe this isn’t quite the move I’d hoped it would be.” We got a new manager. He inherited a couple of us, the rest had left.

So maybe a month later, we got a couple more people into the team but we didn’t really know… We’d had a few meetings, of course, with the manager, but he organised what he called a ‘transition interview,’ where he said, ‘You can ask me anything you want to because it’s going to help for us to find out about each other quickly.’ So Pete, his name is – I’m still in touch with him – he gave us carte blanche to ask whatever we wanted and it was like a moderated discussion of the Friday afternoon. One of the team took the responsibility to hand him the questions. We sat down, we had some lunch together and we went through the questions. Somebody asked, “When was the last time you cried?” And he said, “Well, about nine months ago when my Dad died.”
Now, I can’t remember anything else from that meeting, but I do remember thinking, “Wow! The fact that this person’s prepared to invite us to ask what we want, and then answer the questions we’ve asked, it really, really stuck with me. It’s like the old thing, isn’t it? You’ll forget the details and you’ll forget the time and place, but you’ll never forget how you felt through this stuff.

We went on to deliver a lot of really work at that place, including some really new work that had not been done before. You can get a sense perhaps on that of something about this person.

DH: [0:23:24.0] Curt, I wonder whether we could deal with the issue of conflict. Teams often – particularly if you inherit them, I suspect – come with inbuilt conflict where people have for whatever historical reasons been at loggerheads. Can this insightful leader that we’re talking about…? Is it going to be reasonably easy for them to deal with that conflict and heal that, if you like, using the theories and the methods that KAI suggests?

CF: [0:24:00.9] There certainly is a lot of research and writing about the vulnerable leader and what it means to be vulnerable. I think Rob has a good example of that, but again vulnerability would be independent of KAI. If we were to look at the insightful leader and apply adaption innovation theory to it, we would need to be sure to talk about problem A and problem B has Kirton has defined it.

Problem A is the task at hand. It’s why the group comes together. There’s the focus on problem A by the group. Problem B is probably to find all distractions from problem A. So if we turn the focus on problem B we lack focus on problem A. We know we can only focus on one problem at a time and problem Bs can be anything from politics, lack of resources, lack of time, differences in values, not being able to trust each other starts building into that.

The insightful leader knows that there is only one problem A and we have to focus on problem A. If we can’t get focus on problem A, we start losing our motive and because problem Bs can pop up from here and there, it’s important to maintain focus on problem A. So the goal of the leader is to mitigate problem Bs as they pop up as natural with our diversity that we bring to the team and maintain focus on problem A.

If the reward of solving problem A is greater than all the stress that we have from the team, we’ll be successful in moving forward. If our stresses from problem Bs pop up more and more and cannot be resolved in overcoming problem A, we stop being successful in solving problem A.

DH: [0:25:46.5] And presumably, Rob, problem B – the conflicts within the team – to a certain extent the insightful leader needs to depersonalise those so that they become differences of opinion. Of course, they are differences of opinion, but they’re differences of opinion that can be discussed and hopefully resolved. Presumably that’s an important aspect of it too.

RS: [0:26:06.9] Absolutely, definitely. It’s like the difference between debate and personal conflict. We want debate, we want differences of points of view and we want the members to be able to accept the need for those differences. Whether we agree with each other or not, it’s not personal. We’re trying to walk on the back of our hand, so there’s something there about creating a meaningful common goal that’s important to the people in the team. It’s big, it’s tricky, it’s worthwhile and in a way because people realise all that – they realise if this was simple there wouldn’t be the need for us to be working collaboratively on it. That’s why we need these different points of view.

There’s a fantastic study done a while ago by a woman called Terri Curtsberg who looked at, set up an experiment to get diverse teams generating ideas. She wanted to look at first of all whether the more diverse teams generated more ideas, but also what was the experience like for those people in more diverse teams? The outcome was yes, the more diverse teams – and by the way they used adaption innovation to split people into groups – so the more diverse teams generated more ideas. They were more fluent in their ideas.

However, it didn’t really feel like that to the people in the more diverse teams. First of all, they rated their creativity lower. They didn’t believe they were more fluent. Secondly, they rated the experience of being together as not quite as enjoyable. Because they‘re different, and of course this wasn’t a long term work party, it was only an experiment like a short term research experiment -but in a way we’re more comfortable with people who are like us. So if we bring together for good reasons people who are different, there’s a big onus, isn’t there, on the leader to form, to explain why we need this difference, that we need each other, that you need me and I need you, but also to put in the context of a big important, in Curt’s terms, of adapt innovation terms, problem A -a piece of work that matters.

DH: [0:28:18.9] So Curt, finally, it seems to me that this is about dialogue, it’s about leaders giving people the space to have that dialogue, leading to a greater good. Would that be a fair summary?

CF: [0:28:31.7] Yes. I was just thinking back, when teams aren’t functioning well, people often talk about, “Well, you need to communicate more.” I think from listening to Rob and knowing more about AI theory, it’s also important about what you’re talking about. Communicating our differences is important. Communicating our vulnerabilities is important to moving forward, and an insightful leader can do that well.

DH: [0:28:55.1] You’ve been listening to the KAI Podcast with our special guests, Dr Curt Friedel and Rob Sheffield.

If you found the discussion interesting, you can find out more about the KAI system and its first class team development potential at www.kaicentre.com.

In the meantime, please subscribe and share this podcast. Thanks for listening.




Leading your teams effectively through change

In today’s episode we explore the issue of managing change through challenging times, and how business leaders can ensure they bring their people with them and don’t lose them along the way.

Hosted by Dave Harries, with Dr Curt Friedel & Jessica Prater.

Dr Curt Friedel


Jessica Prater


Dave Harries


Dr Curt Friedel is Associate Professor and Director of the Centre for Co-operative Problem Solving at Virginia Tech in the USA where he is also the Director of the KAI Certification Course.

Jessica Prater Principal Consultant at J.Prater Consulting and HR professional with strong communication and strategic thinking skills. Subject matter expert on standardized training processes and Train the Trainer.

Transcript - click here

DH: Dave Harries
CF: Dr Curt Friedel
JP: Jessica Prater

DH: [0:00:00.0] Welcome to the KAI Podcast Series. Building better teams and great leaders. KAI or the Kirton Adaption Innovation Inventory is the world’s foremost measure for problem solving style. It’s used widely to create cohesive and productive teams and effective leaders. It’s been in use for over 40 years and is supported by a large body of academic research from around the world. In these podcasts we aim to shine a light on the issues and problems facing all teams as they strive to be the best version of themselves. In today’s episode we’re going to explore the issue of managing change through challenging times, and how business leaders can ensure they bring their people with them and don’t lose them along the way.

My name is Dave Harries and joining me to discuss these issues is Dr Curt Friedel and Jessica Prater. Curt is Associate Professor and Director of the Centre for Co-operative Problem Solving at Virginia Tech in the USA and is also a co-instructor of the KAI Certification Course. Jessica is Principal Consultant at J Prater Consulting and a Human Resources professional. Amongst other things Jessica helps small to mid-sized businesses build fantastic teams to realise their organisation’s vision. Jessica is also a certified practitioner for KAI. Curt, I wonder if I could turn to you first, and maybe we could get started by getting you to tell us a little bit more about KAI. I obviously referred to it in the introduction there, but tell me a bit about it for listeners who perhaps don’t know much about it or have never heard of it.

CF: [0:01:32.5] KAI is a measure for measuring problem solving style and we all each have a problem solving style. We believe it is innate, it’s stable and it measures how one perceives problems and prefers to solve problems. What’s really great about the KAI and how it measures problem solving style is that it assumes that all people are creative. You’re creative and I’m creative and we do that all in our own style. So there’s a difference between one’s capacity for solving problems and being creative as well as one’s ability or one’s level and one’s style.

So because we’re all solving problems, we’re all agents of change. You’re an agent of change. I’m an agent of change just because by nature we’re all solving problems. If we were to connect change and a measurement of change to problem solving, problem solving requires moving from a current in status of things onto a desired status of things – and because of that problem solving can access to a measurement of change.

KAI measures the problem solving style. Because we all have perceptions of the problem that are different, we need each other to manage change together. If there is a 20 point gap, as measured by the KAI between the more adaptive and the more innovative, or it could also be between innovative people and adaptive people, we start seeing stress in that relationship and lack of ability to work with each other, lack of trust of each other, and inhibitions in communicating with each other. That really speaks to the science of teams that KAI has to offer in managing teams in moving forward, especially in this era of COVID-19.

DH: [0:03:16.6] Jessica, I wonder if I could turn to you now. Tell me about how you actually apply the stuff that Curt’s been talking about, out in the field.

JP: [0:03:23.7] So, Dave, I’ve been a practitioner of KAI for the past five years and typically when I’m brought into an organisation as a consultant to use the KAI, it’s because teams are either having some sort of dysfunction or they are tackling a large change.

What I think is very interesting about the current climate is that most teams are experiencing both. We’re all experiencing significant amounts of change – whether it be the function of how you’re working, working from home, working from a different space, or if you’re an essential worker you’re facing problems that you never would imagine four months ago. And so because of that, I would imagine that most teams are experiencing heightened amounts of dysfunction. So now more than ever the KAI is extremely relevant and really needed for teams.

DH: [0:04:17.8] So Curt, tell me about the way it’s measured and the scale and what the numbers mean in terms of your problem solving styles.

CF: [0:04:28.8] So the KAI measures your problem solving style on a continuum between 32 and 160. It is a normal distribution with the mean or average at 95 points and so if someone tends to be more innovative as a preference of problem solving style, they would fall between 95 and 160 points. If someone’s more adaptive, they would fall between 95 and 32 points.

Now, there’s no better style. It’s a non-prejorative measure. Sometimes in the United States I like to think of it like the sleep number of bed. You have a score, I have a score. Your score is your preference for sleep. You might be a 72. I might be an 87. That has no measure of quality of sleep or capacity to sleep or how well someone sleeps. KAI is the same way. You have a number I have a number and it’s a preference for solving problems. The more adaptive tend to be people who like to make things better. So if you have a system that is broken, the more adaptive prefer to tweak that system with efficiency and detail to make the system work again. If the system is broken for the innovative, they prefer to swap out the system and replace it with something else that they perceive could be better.

DH: [0:05:48.7] That’s really interesting. So how in the challenges that people are facing right now, might you be able to use that knowledge?

CF: [0:05:59.3] The biggest challenge a lot of people are facing right now with COVID-19 is the guide book or the play book, if you will, of standard operating procedures have been thrown out the window. The more innovative may have been too quick to throw it out the window realising that there’s some structure of systems needed to improve things. Some things are still needed for moving forward with business, and the adaptive may have been too late to throw it the window, holding on to say, “Well, that can’t work anymore but if we just tweak it just enough for a longer period of time, it will certainly work because it’s worked in the past.” It’s a combination of the two. We know that things have changed, so we need a change along with it.

JP: [0:06:39.7] I think what’s really interesting and illustrative of this is I had a client a few years ago and she and I were doing some coaching together. She got her assessment results back and she didn’t like them. She was really upset. She was like, “Man, I’m in the wrong career. I’m in the wrong field. I’m going down the wrong path.” She was ready to just completely change her career as a result of her assessment results.

What I had to work with her on was take what you have and go from there. There are probably people that are frustrated with current situation, they’re frustrated with the systems or the processes, or they’re frustrated with having to change things. Where this tool can really be transformative for people is that self-awareness piece. So not saying as a result of getting these assessments that you would change anything necessarily, but simply having that self-awareness is absolutely critical to weathering this difficult time.

I was sharing with Dave before we got started that knowing my personal results has really helped shape how I weather difficult situations. It almost gives me a sense of control within a situation. Even though I have no control of what’s going on, I know exactly what’s going to push my buttons and as a result of that I can redirect my approach looking at it as changes come down the pipe.

CF: [0:08:07.1 Yeah, I would agree. It’s having a name for it. Some people naturally get it without knowing anything about KAI. You might have an innovator who is a CEO who knows they need someone who’s more adaptive to keep things orderly and organised. You might have an adaptive CEO who recognises the need for going outside the box and having a bit of fresh air in the company for every once in a while.

DH: [0:08:33.1] Okay. So as you’ve mentioned CEOs, let me talk a little bit about leadership and ask you about that. If a team – and the team leader – are aware of their styles, how can they use that to make the team better and to make themselves better leaders? Curt, maybe you could start with that one.

CF: [0:08:51.3] Yeah, that’s a great question. It’s helpful to know the scores of your team. As a matter of ethic we do not share KAI scores as a KAI practitioner. We view your KAI score as something that is personal, but we do encourage people to share KAI scores with each other. It’s helpful to have a team to know where everyone is in problem solving style. We know that one’s KAI score is independent of motivation, independent of intelligence, independent of culture and ethnicity and so it’s a pure measure of problem solving style.

So if you’re having a disagreement and you’re not sure why, it’s possible that it could be a disagreement over problem solving style, how best to solve a problem, and that’s where that 20 points comes in. if someone’s trying to adapt and someone else is trying to innovate, it’s probably not personal, it may not even be political. Someone who is very motivated, even more motivated than you, has more values in the company more than you, is very intelligent, just thinks very differently in how best to solve the problem. And that’s okay. Hopefully we build a culture of safety in sharing ideas so that those ideas can stand on their own merit without being tied to the person and what might be their personal gain.

DH: [0:10:13.9] Jessica, I wonder if you could talk to me a little bit about this issue as well. I’m thinking particularly – Curt mentioned there about the 20 point gap that might exist between team members or between a team leader and some of his members or her members. How in reality out in the field – again, with practical experience – does that work? In other words, if there is this big gap, how do you bridge it?

JP: [0:10:40.3] It’s what Dr Kirton talks about, Problem A versus Problem B. Problem A itself is the problem at hand, what we’re trying to solve. What we find a lot of times within groups is that conflict is actually coming from Problem B. We’re all trying to solve the same problem, but what’s happening is the way that we get to that looks a little bit different.

Early on in my consultant business I worked with a small team. They were experiencing significant amounts of dysfunction. Their customers were noticing it, they were to the point of almost falling apart. We did the KAI assessment with them and found some very interesting results. This small team, all but one person had what we called essentially the same score. This one person had a drastically different score than the rest of the team. What was very interesting though is they serve several internal customers, so their organisation and most of their customers identified more closely with the outlier than with the core group of the team – and that outlier was actually serving as the communicator for the entire team.

What was very interesting is the leader fell within the larger group that all had a similar score and so working with that leader, that leader suddenly had that understanding of “Hey, we’re having a lot of infighting and it’s not because we want different things. It’s not because we even see things differently. It’s because we approach the problem differently.” Having that knowledge within itself helped that leader understand how to really use that one person who could be the main communicator for their internal customers and really leverage that. I’m happy to say after several months of positively working together they saw a big difference, simply understanding that they were not actually fighting about the solution itself. It was just about how they approached the problem.

DH: [0:12:39.4] And Curt, presumably if the leader of a team can deal with those differences and understand those differences, that’s going to increase the performance and productivity of the team.

CF: [0:12:49.7] Yes, absolutely. When Dr Kirton first evolved the KAI and he was going to different CEOs and asking how they apply it to leadership, what they told him was they asked for the most coping during a crisis of all team members and when the crisis was over or resolved, they were able to go back and operate normally. And so asking for minimum coping during normal times and maximum coping during crisis times, and obviously with COVID-19 we’re going through a crisis.

DH: [0:13:24.4] And presumably, depending on your score on the inventory, you’re going to change the way you react to a crisis. I mean you’ve already talked about how the innovators might be too quick to throw away the rule book, whereas the adaptors might want to try and hang on to it for too long. Specifically what the reactions to a lockdown situation like this where we’re suddenly having to work at home much more and perhaps not seeing our colleagues so much? Can you talk to me about people on the scale will react differently to that, Curt?

CF: [0:13:59.0] Yeah, of course we haven’t researched it, but I’ve talked to a lot of people. We have anecdotal evidence that when people – or I should say, when companies went into lockdown and people were working from home, the most adaptive individuals had a bit of anxiety because the routine was broken up and they felt more comfortable once they had established a routine – making sure they were doing certain things during certain days, checking on certain people at certain times. They’re even scheduling a workout or a time to sit out and relax, but they had to build a routine to calm their anxieties.

The most innovative people are happy to go from work to home. They enjoyed the different environment. They liked the opportunity that it presented but now that we’ve been doing it for a while, the most innovative individuals are wanting to get out. It’s become too routine, they feel a bit trapped inside the house and they need to get out and do something else.

DH: [0:14:55.2] And Jessica, presumably as well, when the leader of the team – assuming they’re equipped with this knowledge that the KAI system gives them – can build the routine to suit the adaptors and can offer enough difference so that the innovators are happy too. I mean, that presumably is what the good team leader is doing at the moment.

JP: [0:15:17.0] Yeah, and Dave, I could go further on that and say it’s not even necessarily about changing the process itself. It’s simply about framing how do we communicate these changes? How do we communicate how we’re moving forward? That changes with how someone approaches the problem and the leader can really make sure that they’re emphasising the parts that really resonate with that person. This is just one more aspect of how we’re making sure that leaders are properly tailoring communication to the folks that they’re working with.

DH: [0:15:55.4] And tell me a little bit about stress in all of this. I know stress is a big deal when it comes particularly to change, for everybody, and of course at times like this where there is so much change, stress must be a really important thing to acknowledge and deal with. How can you help with that using the knowledge of the KAI system?

CF: [0:16:19.2] That’s a great question. In answering that question, I need to talk a little bit more about coping as we’ve been defining it here. As we’re defining coping behaviour, coping is the ability to operate outside of your preferred style. And so KAI measures your preferred style on the continuum, a number between 32 and 160, but we’re all able to operate outside of that style, either more adaptively or more innovatively. That requires three things –
The first thing is awareness of the need to cope. The problem requires some adaption or some innovation and so you’re able to turn it on.

It requires some motivation and that’s where the stress part comes in because you have to be more motivated than the stress that you have to be able to cope, and because we’re all under a lot of stress right now, it’s much more difficult to cope because it’s taxing to the brain and motivation is difficult.

The third part I want to talk about is something that came up in a recent conversation with a leader of a non-profit. The third reason someone may not cope is they’ve never learned how. It’s a lot of skill. This was an instance where there was a 25 year old employee and the individual wasn’t coping well. They had to be more innovative as the Director of the Programme was talking about the individual, and it became evident that even innovators need a little bit of structure. They’ll appreciate it when they see it. They may go over it on occasion, not out of spite of the structure, they just don’t see it. But a little bit of structure is needed, and so even though this person is a little bit more innovative, she never learned how to work from home and how to establish a routine that was productive for her and in her role in her company.

DH: [0:18:11.9] So again, that’s presumably where leadership is so important because you need to recognise that some of your team members might be having problems with the particular challenges that you’re facing and act to deal with those. Jessica, do you see that in the field?

JP: [0:18:26.5] I do. Many times when I’m trying to explain coping, I talk about the rubber band. I’ll stretch a rubber band and I’ll talk about how if you go significantly outside of your comfort zone in problem solving you’re going to be like a rubber band. It’s going to stretch and as you continue to stretch – think about a rubber band. If you pull it over and over again, it’s eventually going to get bigger. It’s like thinking about working outside of your typical problem solving style. If you continue practicing it over and over again, you’re going to get a little bit better at coping, but here’s the monkey wrench that’s been thrown in to things is that with COVID-19 there is a significant amount of more stress that are on folks. Childcare is different, people are worried about their safety, people are worried about when the economy is going to get back to normal.

I would say that probably most people’s rubber band cannot take any more coping right now at work, and so what Curt mentioned earlier is that we’re asking people to do all this coping and people’s rubber bands are stretched really thin. I think in a practical sense we need to have really two main understandings from this.

The first one is there are probably going to be higher team tensions than ever before. It’s not because people don’t like their team. It’s not because their team is not working well together. It’s simply because this coping may cause people to snap a little bit more often. And so thinking about holding space for that, thinking about really having an open and honest conversation with folks.

The other piece is that we do need to understand that teams are functioning very differently right now, and so as a result we are having to change how we cope. Curt mentioned earlier learning to cope is really important, but what we don’t understand really fully right now in a global sense how is everyone changing how they cope? Folks that are more orientated – and I’ll share personally as well – real group conformity is really important. I know we’re not getting into sub scores today, but that’s a piece of this. How much do you play nice in the sand box to others? How important are your relationships with others? For me, that’s really high and so living in this world of not actually seeing people, not actually getting into a room and working with folks, it’s been really challenging for me to really think about “Okay, how do I get that peace in my working relationships? How do I get that peace with the groups that I’m with because coping looks very different right now?

DH: [0:21:07.1] Okay. So I think it’s clear that in a time of potential stress, like this, if I understood what Curt was saying correctly, people tend to cope less well so they go back to their normal problem solving style, or they go back towards their normal problem solving style because they’re under stress. So from a leader’s point of view – and we are after all, talking about leaders today – what do they have to do? How do they adapt their leadership to deal with those situations, to try and keep the team together, bring the team with them as I said in the introduction?

CF: [0:21:45.6] Yeah, that’s a great question. I think CEOs need to recognise where people are at on the KAI continuum and recognise the need for reward. As Jessica was saying, there’s lots of stress out there and there just needs to be a lot of understanding but also as we increase motivation, some more reward. I’m not talking about monetary reward. There needs to be more conversation about acceptance of “Hey, we value you. We want you on the team.” Show signs of appreciation. Those are all very helpful.

And I want to add one thing. Building off more what Jessica was saying about group conformity, KAI can inform us about group conformity and adaptors and innovators look at group conformity a little bit different. One of the biggest fears I think a leader should have right now is losing good people. A lot of people think, “Well, the innovators are going to be the first to leave because they enjoy bouncing around from job to job anyway, so why not? But actually if a person, I should say an adaptive person, is lacking that organisational fit or lacking that group conformity that they feel, they’ll be the first to leave because the more adaptive feel sense that hey times are changing and may not feel relevant here anymore. They’ll feel it the quickest.
The next people to leave are the more innovative who don’t feel the fit, so it’s very important to have ability to communicate well as a leader and show appreciation and keep your team motivated.

DH: [0:23:15.4] And presumably, Jessica, that communication needs to be on an individual level wherever possible so that as a leader you’re adapting your communication style to the person you’re talking to.

JP: [0:23:27.1] Yes, absolutely. Having that awareness is really important. I’m going to say something that might be a little bit controversial because I’ve heard folks all over the board on this. This is the time to look at your organisational charts. This is the time to look at your reporting structure.

I’ve heard some HR folks that have really said, “Don’t make any big changes right now. Don’t make any big moves.” This is the time to really assess that structure because there might need to be some temporary moves and as much as we want to think that COVID-19 is temporary, this could impact us for the next year to two years or beyond. There could be some long term implications to businesses, and so I want to encourage leaders not just to communicate on an individual level, but also truly look at your organisational structure. How is it serving?
We don’t want to put people in a box. We don’t want to say, “Oh, just because you’re an innovator you need to be in this department, or just because you’re an adaptor you need to be in this department.” But you do need to think about how you are structuring your organisation to make sure you have the right people in the right places, especially in this time of great change.

DH: [0:24:41.8] That’s a great point Jessica just made, isn’t it? Going forward, the future is really important and presumably companies can’t ignore what’s going on. They’ve got to adapt and make sure they move with the times, I suppose.

CF: [0:24:55.2] Yeah, I agree. COVID-19 has given us an opportunity to re-examine everything from organisational structures to how we prefer to do things, what is essential, what is not essential, how we interact, how often shall we interact? I have actually seen more opportunity and that might be a controversial statement because I know it’s hard and we’re all living through this. I think it’s a great point. Some of us working from home have greater challenges working from home than others and such, but I do think it’s a tremendous opportunity to re-examine what we do and why we do it.

DH: [0:25:30.9] And finally, I wonder whether you could both just sum up for me what are the advantages of understanding the adaption versus innovation problem solving techniques? What are the overriding advantages that people are going to gain if they take the trouble to understand this stuff?

CF: [0:25:52.1] I would say KAI is unique because it is the one inventory that associates with a different type of theory, and that is adaption and innovation theory, which is a theory based on the idea of how we work together to manage change. It is the original theory, the science of teams and managing change. KAI is a pure measure that’s used around the world and so the value becomes I know where people are at on my team, I know how they prefer to solve problems and I can appreciate that diversity of thought they bring to the team knowing that any idea that they may bring to the table may be contrary to what I want to do or think we should do – but because we have an open space to have that conversation and be respectful of each other, be able to disagree without being disagreeable, move forward as a team and solve problems.

As COVID-19 has shown us, the world is very complex and complex problems require teams to solve those problems together.

JP: [0:26:57.9] We’re at a critical time as Curt mentioned. There is a lot of change that’s happening and KAI is uniquely positioned to help individuals and teams understand how they work best. I know there are a lot of businesses that are in a ‘wait and see’ mode right now, a lot of businesses that are putting off development, a lot of businesses that are just maintaining the status quo. The problem with that is you’re not taking this unique opportunity to really rise to the occasion and really make your business better during this crisis. We don’t know how long it’s going to last. We don’t know how long we’re going to live in this new normal and so I always encourage people ‘knowledge is power,’ having an understanding of yourself of how you work, how your team works can actually help you overcome many of the challenges and conflicts that you might be stuck in. And at the end of the day we are shooting for connectivity and excellence, and this is just one more tool to help teams really get ahead even in a difficult time.

DH: [0:28:08.3] Thank you very much Jessica, and thank you very much Curt. You’ve been listening to the KAI podcast with our special guests, Dr Curt Friedel and Jessica Prater.

If you found the discussion interesting, you can find out more about the KAI system and its first class team development potential at kaicentre.com. In the meantime, please subscribe and share this podcast.

Thanks for listening.