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Thursday, March 25, 2010

Using Kolbe to Create Successful Teams!

by Joe Williams

"Conation is the executive function of brain, where you manage your actions and allocate your mental energy. Take charge!" –Kathy Kolbe

As most of you know, I'm a student and practitioner of leading teams that are making a difference at NASA. Any time I get the opportunity to add a new tool to my leadership repertoire, I take advantage of it. A few weeks ago I encountered a new perspective on how individuals and teams get things done, culminating in an insightful experience this week. Here, I'm talking about conation, the Kolbe model, and insights provided by Kathy Kolbe and Joan Koerber-Walker on building and leading teams.

A few months ago Joan posted an interview of Kathy Kolbe as part of her series on "People Making a Difference." (You can see it here.) I was intrigued by the insights offered by Kathy's views of conation (the "doing" part of the brain) and how it relates to the cognitive ( "thinking") and affective ("feeling") parts of the brain. The leadership model I've been using for the last few years is one centered around alignment, action, and result. I wondered: could conation be the well from which we determine our actions, that unites the alignment rooted in feeling and results rooted in thinking? To explore this for myself, I took the Kolbe A™ Index and from that discovered my own innate abilities. In the Kolbe language, this is one's M.O., and mine is 6-4-8-2. I read through the materials on what this meant (an "entrepreneur"), and with some help from Joan, gained some additional insights into what that meant; specifically, that my instinct is to lead with the third Kolbe Action Mode, "Quick Start" through improvisation, and back it up with the first, "Fact Finding" through explaining.

There was something fundamental here, something that I haven't gained from Myers Briggs, Strengths Finder, and DiSC. It was the sense of "yes, this is who I am" I got from the Kolbe A™ Index, as opposed to "yes, this is who I want to be" that I get from the others. There is a big difference between the two.

Moreover, the Kolbe model extends beyond that of the individual – with additional measures, it applies to teams as well. That definitely got my attention. Through Joan, we contacted Kathy Kolbe to conduct an assessment of my current team, so that they could get the same insights from the Kolbe A™ Index that I got on myself. Kathy Kolbe came to Houston, along with her son David Kolbe who is the company CEO, and conducted a learning and evaluation session of the team. Joan also attended to help moderate and share her experiences with Kolbe. Through the assessment, I gained some additional insights into the composition of the team through the identification of which Kolbe Action Modes the team initiates solutions, responds to the situation, and prevents problems. The big picture showed that this team was slightly skewed towards prevent problems and away from responding to the situation. This would require extra effort on my part as leader to help guide the team away from being resistive to new ideas as a means to prevent problems, and instead to embrace a little more responsiveness. The team also has some aspects of "conative cloning," specifically that the team was lacking in a drive to simplicity and an ability to adapt. Kathy provides suggestions on how to address these situations, ranging from actions of the leaders, how the leader might sub-divide the team into smaller units, or to bring in additional team members with the missing M.O.s onto the team.

The final point from this tremendously insightful week is an approach to building teams in the first place. A leader can use the Kolbe model to fill in missing pieces to the team, or even build a team from scratch by incorporating Kolbe assessments into the screening process. There is much more to learn here for me, and I intend on doing just that.

I encourage you to explore the Kolbe model yourself. Go to and read the material there. You can also contact Joan Koerber-Walker through the earlier link, and she can help you as well. Basically, if you are a leader seeking high performance teams, or are attempting to diagnose issues with teams not performing at peak effectiveness, give Kolbe a look. You may be amazed at the results. 

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