As you may remember I did a post a while back on the advantages of not having green – being “unencumbered” by green/structural thinking. There’s no question that this can be useful as an individual contributor to a group or team – it is brilliant to have the perspective of someone who isn’t framing the world in a greenish way. (Just as it is brilliant, crucial to have someone who IS framing the world through a structural view.)
But while that is something to respect and use from an individual level the consequences are very different from the perspective of working in a team that doesn’t access green at all. This gets more important the higher you go in the hierarchy of a company, where the consequences of not talking to green get progressively more significant.
This is even more important to consider given a very interesting issue I’ve seen in my eight years of consulting, namely, that teams very often (so often I’ll say it is usually the case) drive away one of the preferences in their team. For example, a team dominated by left-brain (blue and green) preference possessors often drives away either yellow or red. I have seen a similar problem with several of my abstract (yellow/blue, blue/yellow) clients – in their cases they have trampled on and cast out the green that was in their midst.
Why? It isn’t hard to figure out. Not really understanding the minority presence in their group, bugged by the concerns and thinking that this preference brings to the table that they don’t understand (take your pick), wanting to NOT work in that part of the brain if they can avoid it, they wind up shutting that preference down, dismissing the folks with that preference, avoiding dealing with it, and even patronizing the folks that work in that preference. And who wants to stay around for any of that?
It’s Not Easy Being Green…
The structural or green thinking preference wants to organize the details – organize the world. The great strengths of green derive from this interest/focus. The details matter to green, matter in ways that the other thinking preferences just don’t get, and can’t bring themselves to care about in the same way that green/structural thinking does. Green wants to sort things out, make sense of things, and put things in order. It wants to make sure that things are getting done right, which means preparing thoroughly and carefully before starting them.
This means asking the questions that the other preferences tend to skip over, or not think of at all. How will we afford this? How many man-hours are needed? In what sequence do you want these things done? Are the policies and procedures clear? Will we get this done on time? When the heck is the deadline? In the absence of good information or guidelines the structural preference’s tendency is to slow down, figure out what they don’t know, before they spring into action.
The rest of the preferences can get pretty seriously scratchy when green starts asking these questions and insisting on the answers. Blue, already feeling like most things take WAY too long, finds no joy in lingering over the details once they’ve identified the goals. The goals should be sufficient, right? And of course the answer is often NO – the goals are often not enough to get you where you want to go. Yellow finds the details and the organizing tedious and restrictive, and often hears the greenish questions as criticisms of their still-forming ideas. Red (without green, obviously) doesn’t really understand what the problem is – we’ll figure it out together, right?
What Are These Risks of Not Having Green You Speak of?
So what happens when you don’t have green or, having it, don’t listen to it? This obviously varies depending on the preference mix of the people in a particular group or team. For an example let’s take a team that bias into yellow and blue – a combination, btw, that I see a great deal in Senior Teams:
1) These groups tend to do a LOT of brainstorming, planning, setting strategic goals, and they keep on doing that – because that is what abstract (blue/yellow, yellow/blue) teams LIKE doing. When it comes time however to drill down into concrete steps, action plans and implementation, things get a lot less interesting… so those teams find themselves avoiding those tasks, or suffering through them as briefly as possible, before they return to the stuff that interests them. I have seen this on a regular basis for the last eight years. As a result the work suffers, timelines don’t get met, work gets done at the last minute, etc., and a host of problems continue to dog these teams.
2) These groups tend to overlook key details. Green wants to get a clear map before they proceed, and so they look to sort things out and make sure they’ve got their ducks in a row (as mentioned earlier.) Abstract teams like to work on the fly – partly because it is more interesting to them, partly because they are often good/skillful at it. That’s great – until it isn’t. Even the inclination of green to want to move slower, even briefly, can be a huge asset to an abstract team on the run…
3) These groups tend to change their minds again and again, changing goals, changing direction, changing priorities, etc. As a result implementation is difficult to achieve, because the focus keeps changing! And of course this makes those greenish staff folks they are depending on to do the actual work crazed, frustrated and distracted by all the projects they’ve started but are not allowed to finish.
4) To make matters worse abstract teams often have a hard time driving good, detailed direction to their concrete (green/red, red/green) staff members. Part of the problem is that they don’t THINK in that way – they tend to sketch in broad strokes and big goals, not in detailed marching orders. Which is exactly what green is looking for, needs to have to execute brilliantly and effectively. (This isn’t to say that green can’t create to a large extent their own marching orders. But if the work is new, if the goals have changed, or if they’re unclear about how to proceed, green will look for clear direction – remember, they want to get it RIGHT.)
I Could Go On, But…
That’s a handful of issues that an abstract team, just one combination of preferences, that suffers without green at their side. And guess what? NONE of it is necessary! A good green/structural advisor/cohort/peer can do wonders to negate these problems. I’m not saying in this little cautionary tale that green should be the final word, any more than any of the thinking preferences should always win the debate.
Emergenetics call this WE Teams. Ned Herrmann called this Whole Brains. You pick the term. The point is you want ALL the preferences at the table, engaged in the discussion, respected for what they bring to the work, and not excluded because they think in ways that make one or another person/preference uncomfortable.
This requires a little more work up front than a lot of teams make time for in their day. It means practice solid listening skills – i.e., paraphrasing back what people are saying around complex or difficult topics, to make sure that communication is clear and useful. It means practicing a little more awareness of our own preference bias, and not letting that bias reflexively shut down communication we find uncomfortable or disinteresting. It means letting the debate go on long enough to clarify the issues, and then making the best decisions possible based on what you’ve learned in that debate – not closing down that debate because you’ve already decided what’s best. It means skillful communication and real tolerance for dissention.
But that upfront work means enormous payoffs later. And it can help a team avoid a great deal of unnecessary problems and wasted time. Not to mention what it can do for the company’s financial bottom-line…
Next up… well, I have no idea what’s next up. I have about 12 different topics I want to tackle, but I’ll probably wrap up the “Dark Side” discussion of red before I head off into any of those interesting discussions. Love to hear your feedback on this post about the need for green in teams!