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A Whole Brain® approach to Executive leadership development

by | Mar 23, 2020

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Some people think that when they reach the top of the corporate ladder, they no longer need to participate in team-building or leadership development activities. But these exercises are as valuable for Senior Executives as they are for office workers and lower management. No matter where you are in your career, team building activities are important for creating cohesive, collaborative and creative teams. For Executives, team-building activities lead to better outcomes that benefit not only the leadership team, but the entire business.

Why are team-building exercises important for Executives?

The senior management team is largely responsible for a company’s culture, overarching vision and day-to-day processes. As such, Executives must be aligned on these aspects for a business to operate effectively. A united Executive team will help drive cohesion throughout an entire business, as well as strong morale, effective and transparent communication and high productivity. An Executive team that isn’t united, on the other hand, can lead to conflict and confusion that permeates throughout the entire business. 

That’s why team development at the Executive level is so important. These types of self-awareness activities help senior leaders better understand themselves and their fellow Executives, resulting in more cohesive leadership teams that produce results that benefit the entire organisation. What’s more, these kinds of activities can have applications that go well beyond the workplace, helping Executives work better and live better.

What activities resonate with Executive teams?

In our experience, it can be difficult to get top teams to participate in team building activities. Executives are often time-poor and struggle to see the value in these kinds of exercises. However, we often find that top teams respond well to experiential activities. That’s why we complete all activities twice – once applying the activity to a fictional scenario, and once to a real-life example. We take a practical approach to help Executive teams use the Whole Brain® Model to solve a problem or situation that the leadership team is facing. After all, Executives thrive on strategic problem-solving – it’s the essence of what they do every day.

The Brain Mat

One such activity involves what we call “The Brain Mat”. While all Herrmann-facilitated activities involve the Whole Brain® Model in some way, we know that Executives respond well to practical exercises – those that are less conceptual and more experiential, and that encourage discussion and debate. That’s where the Brain Mat comes in. 

The Brain Mat is a large circular piece of fabric – a replica of the Whole Brain® Model. The mat is divided into four quadrants, with each representing a thinking preference  – blue for Analytical, yellow for Experimental, green for Practical and red for Relational. Teams are asked to stand around the circumference of the mat to discuss what it represents. The team discusses the Whole Brain® Model and the four thinking preferences, before each team member assigns themselves a colour. For example, a strong Analytical thinker would stand directly in the blue quadrant. The team would then discuss the characteristics and strengths of blue thinkers, before asking the next big question: “What value does this thinking style bring to the table, and do we need to pay attention to this preference?”

Depending on the industry and the problems the team is facing, the answers to these questions will vary, but ultimately each team will realise that all thinking styles have value, and that each and every one is important to team cohesiveness, problem-solving, decision-making and the performance of the business as a whole.

The Brain Mat and Whole Brain® Thinking framework help Executives to better understand the similarities and differences within their team, enabling them to make adjustments to improve processes for better outcomes. It gives Executives the skills they need to solve problems, address complex challenges and communicate effectively with one another. The Whole Brain® framework has helped workers from a variety of industries including technology, healthcareand the creative arts, become better leaders.

Using the mat to identify strategic focus

Time and time again, the Executives we work with get excited about a particular colour. Given the propensity for senior leaders to be strategic ‘big-picture’ thinkers, this could be the Experimental quadrant. Conversely, they may be less enthusiastic about Relational thinking styles. But while they might not see the value in this thinking style when it comes to strategy or achieving business outcomes, in fact, this is an indication of where they should be focusing their efforts. A lack of relational thinkers in the business is exactly where the challenge lies. 

Take, for example, work we did with a top technology team from an insurance company. The company was facing competition and had to implement changes to how the team operated. As was to be expected from a business in the technology industry, the team included very strong blue and green thinkers. The CEO, who himself was a blue/green thinker stood on the mat to discuss and analyse his communication approach through the lens of each quadrant. When he got to the red Relational quadrant, he simply couldn’t communicate – he couldn’t speak the language of red. Realising it was critically important to communicate in this style and with these workers who aligned themselves with this thinking preference, the team engaged a third-party to craft the message and help the leadership team manage the change.

Cognitive diversity – making the invisible visible

One obvious benefit of the brain mat and other experiential activities is that it makes visible issues that may not always be easy to see, such as cognitive diversity.

Diversity of thought is about how people prefer to think, and unlike other forms of diversity, such as racial and gender diversity, cognitive diversity isn’t visible to the naked eye. But diversity of thought is equally as important – for all teams, but especially for senior leadership and Executive teams. Diversity in how people think will ultimately lead to better business outcomes because having different people at the table ensures different perspectives, different questions and different solutions. 

The Whole Brain® Model, and the Brain Mat provides Executives with a framework to look at cognitive diversity. By asking a team to stand on the mat in the quadrant that best represents their thinking style, it becomes instantly visible if the team is lacking cognitive diversity. The power of experiential exercises is that they can provide that “aha” moment! And sometimes, awareness is all an organisation needs to start making changes to how they operate and the people they employ. 

Think better, work better, live better

The value of these kinds of activities often goes beyond the workplace. Understanding how they themselves think, and how the people around them think can help people improve not only their work lives, but their home lives too. 

In one team-building session with board members from a telecommunications company, the participants were initially apprehensive about using the Brain Mat, but it quickly became clear that the application of any learnings from the session would be more valuable in their personal lives. All Executives were facing similar challenges at home and were struggling to communicate with and understand their spouses and children. Switching gear, the team discussed their personal lives, rather than their careers. The brain map helped them identify the tools they needed to better understand themselves and their families. The brief for the workshop was to help these Executives think better, the organisation that engaged us wanted us to help them work better, but every single person in that room made the connection to live better.

How to enhance your team’s leadership skills with the Whole Brain® Model

Team building exercises for Executives are important for effectively aligning on your business’s vision, goals, culture and processes. By understanding how each person on your Executive team prefers to think, work and communicate, you can leverage the strengths of your team for more creative problem-solving, more cohesive collaboration and better outcomes for your entire organisation. If you’d like to learn more about developing the leadership skills of your Executive team, request a consultation

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