Whenever a project requires a team effort, you are likely to involve people with different risk tolerances. Some quite enjoy the adrenaline rush that comes with trying a new strategy or taking a big risk (as judged by others’ more cautious standards). Others are quite a bit more risk-averse (as judged by risk takers’ standards). And, since you may need to take risks to ensure a project succeeds, you may also have to deal with the inevitable friction regarding the appropriate level of risk.
Let’s say you’re leading a team. It’s your job to recognize the different problem-solving styles and strengths of your team members in order to create effective teamwork. The Kirton Adaption-Innovation Inventory is a good tool for understanding your team members’ individual preferred problem–solving styles and risk tolerances. As you can see from the tables below, the more Adaptive styles are more prudent risk-takers, expecting a higher success rate. This is because the more Adaptive prefer solving problems within the current structure, leveraging the structure and corresponding rules and norms.
On the other hand, the more Innovative are more daring risk takers and consequently tolerate a relatively high failure rate. This is because they prefer efficiency and flexibility in problem solving, which also means they often toss out the old “tried and true” way in favor of a new, untried way. The more Innovative will solve the problem despite the structure, rules, and norms in place, adjusting the structure, rules, and norms as necessary. The occasional failure is merely a hiccup in the process of getting to the best solution.
If you’re more Innovative, be sure that you don’t dismiss your more cautious, more Adaptive colleagues and team members or exclude them from projects for the fear that they might hold you back. If you are working with team members who would rather be “safe than sorry,” try to encourage and embrace calculated risk-taking. Consider this: most problems are complex, meaning the solutions include components that range on the Adaption-Innovation Continuum. (Read more on Adaption and Innovation.) In other words, by including input from people with both problem-solving styles and risk tolerances, you greatly increase the likelihood of success because each team member will have focused on the aspects of the problem that he or she is best suited to solving. So yes, you’ll be taking a risk, but it’s more calculated because, as a team, you’ve mitigated the risks by considering the problem from many angles.
Let’s get back to supporting the more risk averse. The first risk a team member takes is simply putting his or ideas forward. It’s important to recognize that some will hold back their ideas and consequently will lose productivity and opportunities for professional growth. When you see this happening, support this team member in building confidence by making it safe to share ideas that are not fully formed. You can do so by asking for his or her initial thoughts on a matter, meaning you don’t expect the ideas to be fully formed. It’s also important to publically celebrate success and recognize team members for their contributions. Private conversations supporting a particular individual’s development will be a personally focused review of what worked, what didn’t, and the opportunities for improvement.