Project Team Development leveraging HBDI

Have you heard of right brain/left brain thinking? If you have, you’ll be aware that our right brain is linked to strategy, creativity, lateral thinking and risk-taking while our left brain is linked more to logic, facts, detail and ‘safe’ options. In any project, you need contribution from both sides.

In this article, we explore the possibilities of ‘whole brain’ thinking for project management

HBDI Project Management | Ancora Learning Project planning and control has traditionally been very much left-brained (technical, analytical and rational). Over the years, however, information systems, marketing and event management have given rise to a more flexible, evolutionary and collaborative (Agile) approach where the end result is progressively clarified and adapted. This is where the right brain plays a highly significant role.

Ned Herrmann (Herrmann Brain Dominance Instrument) developed a metaphor for the brain, showing four distinct but closely integrated thinking styles. I have a very strong preference for yellow thinking – I thrive in the initiation phase of projects. Conversely, I have a low score in the green area (not a weakness note, just an ‘avoidance’)! People often ask me how I can bear to let go just as the project is bearing fruit. Easy – that’s when it gets tedious for me; I’d much rather be kicking off another one somewhere else!

Between these extremes, I’m very comfortable with red and blue thinking. In fact, you’ll find that most people function across more than one quadrant; it’s simply that that they tend to favour one or two quadrants over the others.

Although I’ve come through the engineering ranks, I’ve always worked on the people side of systems. I’ve found out, sometimes the hard way, that even though you may have the best records, measurements and control systems in the world, it’s always people that make or break projects (not Gantt charts or costing sheets).

Project life cycle phases – Initiation, Planning, Implementation and Closure

During the Initiation phase of the project life cycle, we need ideas, options, alternatives and ‘outside the box’ thinking. Yellows excel in this phase, identifying and developing alternatives in the progressive evolution of a project scope. These abilities map closely with PMBoK’s (Project Management Body of Knowledge – PMI) knowledge areas of Scoping and Integration management (as well as project governance and risk management).
Once into the Planning phase, reds are naturals at Stakeholder Management (PMBoK). They know when you have buy-in (or not) and have a natural ability to influence people. This maps closely with PMBoK’s HR and Communication management.

In the Implementation phase, the blues are the objective realists who cut through the waffle and evaluate the best of the options, cost them and lay down a time line – no nonsense. Efficiency and measurement are their stock in trade. As a result, Time and Cost management is their forté.

Finally, we’re at the delivery or Closure phase. Here, we need the greens – the ‘doers’ of the ranks. They’re the people who deliver; if the project doesn’t get to here, it doesn’t happen! That’s why I desperately need greens around me. They are (typically) the quiet achievers who consistently and doggedly implement the ideas – aligned with Quality and Procurement management.

The real trick is to manage all the personalities and thinking styles to achieve the optimum outcome.

Where ideas collide

You can see from the above that though Whole Brain teams can deliver exceptional results, the very strong logical blue team members could often clash with the emotional reds. Likewise, the big-picture yellows and exacting greens could irritate one another. But that is also the value of the model. When the diverse styles complement each other and stakeholders learn to respect each other’s contributions, the project invariably delivers superior outcomes. As a yellow, I greatly admire the greens, respect their attention to detail and totally depend on them – I just don’t go drinking with them!

Whole Brain Think-About

PMBoK Competency UnitsWhole Brain Project Team Development is a practical approach to managing this diversity from concept to delivery (and beyond). Using the Whole Brain Think-About framework, the project leader is able to guide the team through the phases, initially giving more ‘air time’ to the yellows while they consider the bigger picture.

During the planning phase, whilst the blues objectively evaluate the best options and ground the ideas, the project leader also gives the reds the opportunity to identify and develop relationships with key stakeholders. Their gift is to sense the levels of motivation and, therefore, commitment to the project. When the reds say you haven’t got buy-in (yet), you haven’t! No good asking them for proof, though – that’s why it’s called intuition.

When the project finally hits the ground, the greens come into their own. At this stage, the last thing you want is more ideas from the yellows. A good leader protects them from wasteful ‘scope creep’ by giving them the stability and resources to deliver the results without interference.

The Whole Brain Project Team Development program is available as an intensive course aimed at anyone involved in project work.

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For more information on our Whole Brain Project Team Development Program


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Jerzy - Ancora Learning Specialist Project Management Facilitator


Contributor – Jerzy, Ancora Learning Specialist Facilitator

Jerzy specialises in tailored development programs in line with client business needs. His strong emphasis on organisational culture, as well as the specific requirements of individual team members, means that your people can develop skills, unleash individual creativity and achieve technical know-how – all within a balanced project team.

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