What's Your Starting Style? 4 Ways To Approach Your Team's Next Project Kickoff

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Tackling a new skill is always daunting, especially when it feels like everyone else around you has magically picked it up while you’re left in the dark (it’s ok, nobody can actually play hacky sack well). But research has shown that there are different types of problem solvers, and knowing which one you are will help you approach a new challenge in a helpful way. 

Turns out that taking on a challenge has a lot to do with how we prefer to process information. No matter how talented or informed you may be, receiving information with your problem solving style in mind will help you approach and critically think easier. The opposite is true as well—thriving in the workplace also means understanding which modes of problem solving won’t work best for you.

Whether it’s your next big project or planning the best BBQ your office has ever seen, here are four learning frameworks to help you identify how you (and your team) can thrive. And while similar categorizations called “learning styles” have been widely debunked, the types mentioned below are better suited for how an individual typically tends to approach challenges.

So which “solving style” do you identify with? Here’s a breakdown of the four types, and how each one might help you and your team approach that next big project in a more productive way: 

The Activist

You may identify as an activist in the wild if you’re the type of person to jump into a creative idea or project with seemingly no fear. Folks with an activist style are already knee deep in experience by the time many others are just wrapping their head around the matter at hand. As an activist, you may experience moments at work where you’re the primary contributor at a brainstorm. Oftentimes, you’re also asking to immediately meet a client in order to “understand them fully” versus doing more research like your colleagues may need.

When you’re working with a group of activists on a new project, you might be tempted to pump the brakes to avoid feeling like you’re losing control. However, give a group of activists a long introductory report or a set of must-follow written instructions and you may see a staggering dip in performance—they don’t fare well with precise, long-winded guardrails. In fact, a looser framework at the start might actually be a good thing for digging up creative, out-of-the-box solutions: Diving in head first is simply how they attack a problem.  

Give your team the best of an activist’s world and allow them (or yourself) some necessary “exploration” time.

The Reflector

Every team has the “secret weapon” team member. This is the person who will take some time to deliberate and ponder on their own without revealing as much as a squeak. When they do express themselves, however, it is well-thought out to the point of leaving you speechless and wondering if they’re superhuman. Reflectors need time to assess exactly what they are approaching first before diving in. Unlike activists, they will look at others interacting with new knowledge and create an internal approach of how they will attack the same problem.

While this method may seem tedious to some, it’s what allows reflectors to excel in creating feedback and reviews for any given process or project. But remember: For urgent and deadline-focused tasks, don’t rely on reflector types to work with the swiftness the project may require. Not ones to thrive under pressure, they’ll likely think they have more time than they really do.

For the reflectors on your team, allow them to grow by creating the space they may need, and even offering more 1:1 conversations to truly make them confident in how they’ll tackle their next challenge.

The Theorist

Theorists could be considered the closest style to reflectors; cousins, if you will. Your theorist colleagues are the ones that need three things: structure, structure, and a bit more structure.

Whether it’s equations, manuals, or hard data, theorists operate best if they can come to a hypothesis of their own before approaching a project or problem. Settings where theorists can ask questions and gather resources is where they’ll truly feel at home.

Have a home renovation project that requires meticulous research? Call up your theorist friend. You know the one: They’ll be able to tell you which types of countertop are sourced in the most eco-friendly way, and they’ll provide a thorough list of all the interior designers in your area. In a nutshell, the theorist thrives with access to resources, and enjoys sharing their findings in order to come to a conclusion.

As with any team, a mix of backgrounds and approaches is key, so when creating a group think about how a theorist and reflector could spend endless time in the research phase, running the risk of delaying a project rather than moving it forward, whereas a theorist and activist could live to make the perfect pair!

The Pragmatist

A pragmatist is, unsurprisingly, exactly what you’d expect: They’re the most down-to-earth team member. Somewhat like the activists, pragmatists are unafraid of jumping in as long as they have some basic research. Case studies and lively discussion encourage them to jumpstart a project, and oftentimes they succeed in large groups due to their tendency to ask questions and truly get a sense of context in order to create a sustainable solution.

As pragmatists are deeply rooted in reality, it could be difficult to jump in with a massive creative idea and run along with it when a pragmatist is by your side. Learning best by example, some coaxing may be necessary. Working with a group of pragmatists could seem like you’re with a bunch of cynics due to the tendency to constantly need relevancy.

With your more pragmatic teammates, it may be best to come prepared with real life examples to progress your idea or project.

A pragmatist is, unsurprisingly, exactly what you’d expect: They’re the most down-to-earth team member. Somewhat like the activists, pragmatists are unafraid of jumping in as long as they have some basic research. Case studies and lively discussion encourage them to jumpstart a project, and oftentimes they succeed in large groups due to their tendency to ask questions and truly get a sense of context in order to create a sustainable solution.

As pragmatists are deeply rooted in reality, it could be difficult to jump in with a massive creative idea and run along with it when a pragmatist is by your side. Understanding best by example, some coaxing may be necessary. Working with a group of pragmatists could seem like you’re with a bunch of cynics due to the tendency to constantly need relevancy.

With your more pragmatic teammates, it may be best to come prepared with real life examples to progress your idea or project.

Your Teammates Are Like A Bowl of Skittles

Before you come to the conclusion that all of humanity can be organized into four distinct personas, don’t worry—it’s not that simple. Each person is an amalgamation of multiple problem solving approaches depending on the topic at hand. Fixing your website needs a different approach than a squirrel infestation, for example (that’s a story for another time).

Characterizations like these are meant to understand and push your team towards completion of a stellar project. As with anything, problem solving works best when your crew is all working in harmony.

Next: What's Your Feedback Type? How To Deliver Negative Feedback Beyond The Compliment Sandwich

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