A Case of Workshop Innovator Bias

– by David Flegg

Evidence suggests (as early as Kirton, 1976) that adaptors readily combine among themselves, whereas innovators tend not to combine with adaptors or, indeed, other innovators.

Surveys of general management courses have revealed that innovators tend to be attracted to them (Kirton, 1980; Kirton & Pender, 1982). Furthermore, those that have self-selected themselves to attend courses are more innovative than those who are selected to go (Kirton & Pender, 1982).

These two points have led to considerable interest in management teams and their combined effectiveness. As many management courses involve active teamwork, whereby teams are built according to criteria such as grade, age etc., it is becoming increasingly clear that grouping might be made relating to cognitive style, a knowledge of which may give insight to team members to pool their resources and use their differences constructively.

This notion has been explored in two pilot studies, both as yet unpublished, but producing grounds for further interest and research (Flegg D. Industrial Training Research Unit, Cambridge , UK ; Stong D. Avatar Consulting Group, North Carolina , USA ).

Both of us found that if the team is on the innovative side in its composition, then without special training, the group will run a high chance of not completing the set task.

It is our experience that if the team members are made aware of their KAI scores and the significance attached to them, then they can be encouraged to combine more readily in team problem solving, having been made aware of their own effectiveness areas and how their resources may be pulled together as a team. This observation and pilot result needs, as a formal hypothesis, the backing of carefully planned research.

Editor’s Note: The above text was written in the late 1980’s. What we have learnt since is that the workshop organisers, themselves, need to take their KAI score (and possible bias) into account also. Below are extracts of a first draft of the example written by Flegg that lead to him making the observations above. In this extract note the text in bold. The style preference of the then inexperienced Flegg (recently certificated as KAI user) may have contributed to the results.

I found Team B most interesting. According to Belbin’s Self Perceived Team Role Inventory, as “resource investigators”, one would have expected them to have spent much of their time in gathering information from many sources which were available to them, and that they would not produce very much in the given time. However, two team members were at loggerheads within the first few minutes of the exercise. They did very little ‘resource investigating’ but clearly produced a lot of original material. They missed the first deadline (no “completer” in the team), but just made the final deadline. They were well over budget and went way outside the original guidelines, but won purely on the originality of their script (a key criterion for success).

The KAI scores of team members were analysed and clarified the findings. The two key groups members – those producing most of the ideas – were both high innovators (134 and 124 respectively). A third member, who initially attempted to suggest ways of setting about the task and produced some of the ideas for the script, was mostly ignored by the other two – he was an innovator but not to such a degree (122). The other two members attempted some social and administrative order to the proceedings; both were highly adaptive (91 and 93). They weren’t allowed much voice.

So, as the exercise was assessed in innovative style and participants close to the mean are judged high adaptors, the consultant can be seen as innovator biased. Flegg soon saw this error and corrected it, but sent in the original draft paper to the Occupational Research Centre as a help to other KAI users. With thanks to David, his amended article, first published in this website, entitled: Team Effectiveness – an exercise using Kirton and Belbin.

For the full article on this case see: Team Effectiveness: using Kirton and Belbin, Flegg & McHale

David Flegg, 1991