From Quagmire to Fertile Ground: the Impact of KAI Theory on Group Productivity

– Geff Marczyk

My first exposure to the actual application of KAI theory took on dramatic proportions. Considering what I had learned in the certification course I fully expected the instrument to bean excellent tool for increasing understanding and productivity in a group/work team environment. I was recently given the opportunity to use the KAI with a project team which was composed of six members from the finance department of a large health care provider. This particular team of individuals was charged with the creation of a new financial reporting system and its implementation. In essence, the team’s mandate was to scrap the old system, develop a new system and implement the necessary changes within the department. The team was given one year to effect the change. When I became involved the project was eight months behind schedule.

As a whole the group was extremely frustrated. Besides the ever constant pressure of being eight months behind schedule, the group members were also beginning to encounter interpersonal difficulties. Interviews with each of the group members revealed that the group was unsure as to how to continue. As time and interpersonal pressures mounted accusations began to fly. The individual group members began to attribute the group’s failure to the inabilities or shortcomings of the other group members. An earlier attempt to assist the group had revolved around the use of the MBTI. This left every team member with the notion that the teams’ difficulties revolved around various personality differences. For this reason the group saw little hope of resolving their dilemma. A mild form of learned helplessness had set in. Since desperation is such an excellent motivator, each group member agreed to complete the KAI and participate in a one-day debriefing. Although I expected improvement my expectations were minuscule compared to what actually transpired.

This particular group had a mean KAI score of 125. Needless to say the group had no difficulties generating ideas and concepts on which the new system would be based, but experienced difficulties moving beyond the idea generation stage. The almost universal complaint of the group was that they had a tendency to drift and leave things half finished as they went off on another tangent to consider another possibility. In reality they had created the new system within the first three months of the group’s existence. The remaining time had been spent wandering in the desert so to speak. The team leader commented that they had to make sure that every possible angle had been explored before a final solution was presented. Is it a coincidence that the team leader had the highest KAI score in the group? I think not. I was amazed at how quickly this particular group transformed. It was almost as if someone had practically flipped a switch and changed the understanding of the problem plaguing the group. Upon completion of the one-day debriefing there seemed to be a new energy amongst the members.

They reported a sense of relief that the causes of their problems could be seen in a different light other than personality clash. In addition, a number of group members reported that upon completion of the debriefing they had a framework for explaining what they felt intuitively was wrong with the group. I have never heard comments like this in regard to any of the other instruments with which I have worked. Armed with these new insights the group supplemented their membership with three adaptors, mean KAI score of 75. These new group members were charged with the implementation and structuring of the new system. Approximately two months have passed since the group took in its adaptors ….the new system will be fully integrated within the next two to three weeks. I cannot help wondering how much time may have been saved if the original group had contained a number of adaptors.

Although this was not a controlled study I think the results speak for themselves.

The innovators in the group in question may not agree with their adaptor colleagues but they have seen that they are essential to the maintenance of the group’s equilibrium and efficiency.

Geff Marczyk, Atrium Ind. Inc.

Originally published in KAI News, 1994