Project stalled? Practice perspective-taking

How to Encourage Perspective-Taking Skills

Unclear objectives. Scope creep. Cost overruns. Many of the reasons that projects fail seem painfully obvious. And yet there’s a less noticeable offender that can lead teams to take rash shortcuts, ignore the facts, or worse, mistake their overconfidence for boldness.

I’m talking about our failure to actively seek out and consider perspectives different from our own.

You might have guessed that perspective-taking is something we promote enthusiastically in Business Chemistry. After all, minimal variation of thought can lead to groupthink…which can steer a team right into a place of dysfunctional conformity. And we’re not only talking about encouraging people to exchange perspectives; but about using targeted strategies to do so. Academic research supports this recommendation: perspective-taking has been shown to simultaneously improve creativity1 and reduce favoritism within a team2. And beyond fostering more cooperative workplace behaviors3, taking others’ perspectives into account has been linked to better team coordination4 and improved conflict management5.

Even on a diverse team well-represented by all the Business Chemistry types, perspective-taking doesn’t always happen unless a proactive effort is made to encourage it. But on a less diverse team—dominated by one or two types, or missing a type entirely—an even more concerted effort is required.

How can teams with an imbalance of Business Chemistry types get needed perspective? We often encourage a team overrun with say, Pioneers, to invite a Guardian or two into their planning discussions. This helpful informant acts as a kind of counterpoint who can “reality-test” the direction the project is headed. Similarly, consider a team heavy on Drivers, a type known for their black-and-white thinking and aversion to changing their minds. By bringing in the perspective of Integrators, who easily see shades of gray, the group may move past a stalemate to find a workable middle ground on an issue.

We recognize that some of the time, rebalancing a team is a luxury (or practical choice) that a group may not have. What can you do in the absence of a perfectly diverse group? Try the following methods for mixing things up:

  • Roleplay it: Imagine yourself as (or assign someone else to play) the missing Business Chemistry type of the team. The role-player should consider, “What insight might this type have that we currently don’t?” At a product design meeting, someone playing a Guardian (the type that most appreciates historical precedent) might ask, “What has been attempted in the past that we can learn from (good or bad)? Is there a success story or cautionary tale that we can use for learning purposes?”
  • Story-tell it: After identifying the missing perspective in the room, retell the story of your project—from inception to current day—from this new perspective using “we”. Picture a group of Guardians, for example, a type that values detail and thoroughness, telling their story through the eyes of an Integrator, a type that likes to think in terms of the big picture. Harnessing an Integrator mindset may illustrate that the Guardians’ current level of project detail is sufficient, and that seeking more painstaking granularity may be an unnecessary use of time and resources.
  • Brainstorm it: Decades of research has shown that individual brainstorming can lead to higher quality ideas than group brainstorming. In that same spirit, have individual team members generate ideas from the missing Business Chemistry perspective, reminding them of the missing type’s key traits. Then debrief and pool ideas as a group, allowing people to further discuss and build on individual ideas.
  • Occupy it: Think of how you might create an immersive environment that channels the missing perspective in the room. If you’re lacking Integrators, who tend to bring the people-perspective to business decisions, you might put images or stories of your project’s stakeholders around the room for your team to study. A team lacking Drivers, the most quantitative type, might immerse themselves in charts, spreadsheets or other logic-driven measures.
  • Believe it: If your team is heavier on critical thinkers (Drivers and Guardians) than free thinkers (Pioneers and Integrators), play “The Believing Game6“. As important as doubters and questioners can be to a project, believing a solution is plausible can lead to exploration and experimentation that wouldn’t have been reached otherwise. If you find yourself in the reverse scenario—where you have more free thinkers than critical ones—you can also try playing the Doubting Game (where you invite uncertainty and skepticism). Both methods allow you to try on an idea rather than just look clinically at it from a distance.

To be sure, perspective taking has been shown to be cognitively taxing7. A form of tension can build when you add thinking that’s counter-culture to your team, and however healthy that tension is, it can be more time-consuming and mentally draining than the status quo. Still, we think the ends justify the means. The benefits of perspective-taking span interpersonal relationships, innovation, even facets of productivity!

The next time you face a situation where discussions have become circular or an important project is stalling, experiment with how the chemistry changes when you add perspective. As innovative computer scientist Alan Kay has been known to say, “A change in perspective is worth 80 IQ points.”

Selena Rezvani is a Manager in Business Chemistry for Deloitte’s Leadership Center for Clients. When she’s not delivering Business Chemistry labs, she focuses her time on content development by gathering research that addresses leading practices in learning design, behavioral assessments, and new tools and technologies. An experienced human capital consultant, Selena has more than a decade of experience in culture surveys, leadership training, and inclusion consulting.

1 Grant, A. & Berry, J. (2011). The necessity of others is the mother of invention: Intrinsic and prosocial motivations, perspective-taking, and creativity. Academy of Management Journal, 54, 73-96.
2 Galinsky, A. D., & Moskowitz, G. B. (2000). Perspective-taking: Decreasing stereotype expression, stereotype accessibility, and in-group favoritism. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 78, 708-724.
3 Parker, S. K. & Axteil, C. M. (2001). Seeing another viewpoint: Antecedents and outcomes of employee perspective taking. Academy of Management Journal, 44, 1085-1100.
4 Resick, C.J., Murase, T., Bedwell, W.L., Sanz, E., Jiménez, M., DeChurch, L.A.
Mental model metrics and team adaptability: A multi-facet multi-method examination. Group Dynamics: Theory, Research, and Practice, Vol 14(4), Dec 2010, 332-349.
5 Sessa, Valerie I. (1996). Using perspective taking to manage conflict in teams. Journal of Applied Behavioral Science. v32n1, p. 101-115.
6 Elbow, P. (1973). Writing Without Teachers. (New York: Oxford University Press).
7 Ruby, P., & Decety, J. (2001). Effect of subjective perspective taking during simulation of action: A PET investigation of agency. Nature Neuroscience, 4, 546-550.

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