Team Decision Making

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Team Decision-Making

Seven Modes of Thinking -- An adaptation of "Six Thinking Hats" by Edward de Bono.

The Problem

How many times have you attended a meeting that went on too long and had no useful output? Answer: Too often. We have many good tools for argument and analysis, but they depend on adversarial thinking where each person has a point of view and tries to persuade other people of its benefits. While this system can sometimes reach a solution, in reality many discussions result in very little constructive output.

The Solution

Parallel Thinking offers a practical alternative. It encourages co-operation, exploration and innovation. Parallel Thinking helps people lay out all views side by side in parallel to consider how to move forward. With the Six Hats method---outlined by Edward de Bono, we can separate out the different aspects of thinking, instead of trying to do everything at once. This is co-operative, co-ordinated thinking. I have added a seventh hat to cover the spiritiual dimension.

Parallel Thinking Rather Than Adversarial Thinking

De Bono maintains that Western thinking relies on adversarial debate for resolving difficult issues, i.e. parliament and the legal system, and is derived from Socrates. He suggests Parallel Thinking, which uses the Six Thinking Hat model as a more effective way of examining an issue.

Six Modes of Thinking (or Seven!)

  1. White Hat: White is neutral and objective. The white hat is concerned with objective facts and figures. What we know and what we don't know.
  2. Red Hat: Red suggests emotions. The red hat gives the emotional view. Feelings are a valid part of making a decision.
  3. Black Hat: Black is sombre and serious. The black hat is cautious and careful. It points out the weaknesses in an idea. Logical negative.
  4. Yellow Hat: Yellow is sunny and positive. The yellow hat is optimistic and covers hope and positive thinking. Logical positive. This way of thinking points out all the positive outcomes of an idea.
  5. Green Hat: Green is grass, fertile and abundant growth. The green hat indicates creativity and new ideas. This way of thinking encourages lateral thinking---out of the box!
  6. Blue Hat: Blue is cool, and it is also the colour of the sky, which is above everything else. The blue hat is concerned with control, the organisation of the thinking process and the use of the other hats. Overview.
  7. Gold Hat: Gold is for the Kingdom of God. (Gold is too similar to yellow. What about purple? Or would that be hard to distinguish from darkish blue if we are working late in the evening? Perhaps gold and purple stripes? Hats can be variegated can't they?)

(This is not a hat that Edward de Bono recommends but one I (Barry) am advocating in order to identify the spiritual dimension in finding God's will in decision-making.)

Asking Good Questions

White Hat Questions -- facts and figures

  • What information do you have about the issue? What do you know?
  • What information do you need?
  • How are you going to get the information you need?
  • What trends have you observed?
  • What have you done about this so far?

Red Hat Questions - feelings, emotions and intuitions

  • What is your gut feeling about this?
  • What do you not like about this?
  • Do you have a hunch or impression about this?
  • What would you enjoy most about this?
  • Do you feel right about this?

Black Hat Questions -- cautions, weaknesses, critical thinking

  • What is the greatest difficulty with doing this?
  • Do you see anything illogical with doing this?
  • Do you see anything unethical with this?
  • How does this fit with your past experience?
  • What will happen if you take this action?
  • Do you have the resources to do it?
  • What are the potential problems?

Yellow Hat Questions -- optimism, benefits, looking forward

  • What is the most positive thing you see for doing this?
  • What would be the value or benefit of doing this?
  • In what ways could what you are doing be improved?
  • What opportunities do you have for developing your ideas?
  • If others were to join you what benefits would follow?
  • What vision or dream do you have for this?

Green Hat Questions -- creativity, change, innovation, new ideas & new alternatives

  • What are some alternative ways of looking at this?
  • What new ideas do you have about this?
  • How would a person from another planet (or culture) think about this?
  • If you were given a million pounds (dollars) for this project, what would you do differently?
  • In what ways could electronic technology improve this idea?
  • If you were to ignore all the rules or conventional ways of doing this, what could you do?
  • If you had all the resources you need, how would it change your approach to this decision?

Blue Hat Questions -- overview, summary, conclusion, decision

  • What is the problem we are considering?
  • What sequence of hats can we agree to follow?
  • Can we keep our discussion focused on the issue we agreed upon?
  • Can we have a summary of our discussion so far?
  • Are we ready to make a decision?
  • Are we ready to consider alternatives?
  • That is good 'Black Hat' thinking, but can we look at some possibilities now?

Gold Hat Questions -- revelation, hearing from God, listening to his voice

  • Has anyone had any leading from God about this issue?
  • What scriptural principles would be relevant to this question?
  • Should we invite someone with a prophetic ministry to pray with us?
  • Should we consider praying and fasting before we make any decision?
  • Should we wait on the Lord now and submit our ideas to him?

Leadership Meetings

Most leadership meetings in churches and missions follow the debate or adversarial model. By contrasting different points of view we endeavour to arrive at a consensus or agreed position in order to make a decision. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't.

As we consider the six modes of thinking that Edward de Bone is advocating we can see that often our debates are simply clashes of different thinking modes or approaches to the subject and are unproductive discussions.

Parallel thinking however, using the six (seven) thinking hats, would be much more productive. We would agree to consider each point of view equally and, as a result, we would have a more comprehensive understanding of the subject being considered.

Adversarial meetings often get stalled by strong personalities with personal preferences, or because someone came to the meeting with their own agenda, And, because most of us are competitive, we like to win arguments; we like to think that our viewpoint is the right one and often don't give sufficient consideration to other people's opinions. As a result many meetings are unproductive.

Parallel thinking bypasses all this unproductive argumentation and brings us to decision more quickly and effectively.

An illustration that De Bono uses is of four people describing a house. Each of the four people is looking at a different side of the house and talking to the others with a mobile phone. Each one is insisting that their view of the house is the right one. This is adversarial thinking.

Parallel thinking is when the four walk around the house together viewing the different sides of the house. In this way the four get a more comprehensive view of the whole house and upon which they can quickly agree.

Individual Decisions

De Bono's six hats give us an excellent way of considering an individual decision. By systematically looking at the issue through these six (seven) modes of thinking we will gain a much more comprehensive view of the matter. And as a result, make better decisions.

Marriage Issues

Many arguments in marriage relationships occur because the couple have adopted an adversarial way of relating. Using the illustration above, they are like two people on opposite sides of a house arguing about which view is correct.

If the couple were to adopt a parallel way of relating using the seven thinking hats model they could systematically work through the issues and arrive at agreed decisions without argument.

(see also Married Couples on Leadership Teams)

A Testimony From a Mission Leader

I had a very tough meeting to process the transition of leadership (and change of structure) and I decided to use this 6 thinking hats method to help steer the group discussions and it worked very well.

It was great to have everybody (we were in 17 senior leaders, with very strong opinions) looking at the problem from the same perspective. To illustrate, we even made 6 colourful hats, one of each colour, and wore it to remind us all what type of comments we were expecting. In the end we solved the problem together, everybody speaking from the same angle.

The most interesting part for me was that I was able to control the type of responses without having great ideas shot down by a pessimist as soon as it was spoken! Of course, we also had times to wear the black hat to hear needful concerns.

Thanks a lot for this useful tool!

Adapted by Barry Austin from Six Thinking Hats by Edward de Bono ISBN 0140296662