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HBDI Profiles and their associated stories

Manny Elkind and Colleague
From Conflict to Collaboration

Manny and his colleague were on the senior staff of Polaroid’s Worldwide Camera Division some years ago. Before they were aware of these concepts, his colleague believed that Manny was weird, flaky and unrealistic and Manny believed his colleague was narrow minded and it would take dynamite under his chair to get him to move and do things differently, for a change.

The HBDI helped them both understand that they were just different and they indeed perfectly complemented each other. They quickly developed a great collaborative relationship and often had fun kidding each other openly about their differences, which became highly valued by both.


CEO and Vice President of Human Resources
What are you trying to say?

The profiles of these officers of a medium-sized high-tech research and development company are shown below. They had an excellent relationship over many years and, at times, they also had great difficulty understanding each other. When they saw their HBDI’s during the training program they realized the cause of the problem was their different ways of communicating. They told me this story about six months after the training.

“When John (the logical, analytical CEO) would talk to me about budgets and costs, he would start at the beginning with a lot of numbers and specifics. I had no idea where he was going. I’d lose track of what he was saying and I’d get very frustrated and irritated. He could never understand why it wasn’t perfectly clear to me because he was being so precise and specific. The less I understood, the more specific and precise he would become, and he would repeat the same information over again with a little more intensity, and that only made things worse.”

“On the other hand, I’d often go into his office with some idea that was not yet well formed for the purpose of engaging him in a discussion where we could scope out the possibilities of the idea, and I could find out if it made any sense to him at all before I spent more time on it. I’d talk to him using abstractions and generalities and feelings and he would often wonder what I was talking about. Then he’d start asking me very specific questions so he could understand. Much of the time I couldn’t answer those questions and he would get irritated and impatient and my excitement about the subject would turn to frustration and disappointment.”

“Now, we laugh about those differences. When he talks to me about budgets and costs and other specifics, he usually gives me some overall context, takes it more slowly and asks me if it’s making sense and what he might do to make it more understandable. On the other hand when I come in with an idea that’s only roughly formed, I’ll warn him that I just want to get some first impressions from him and some different perspectives and I’m not ready for a lot of specifics and details. It really works perfectly.”

Vice President of Manufacturing and Staff
I’m Really Not Irrational

This took place in a large leading-edge computer and software company. It was very reassuring to the staff to understand that their boss was a visionary and not some irrational person bent on self-destruction by operating so often in uncharted territory.


Board of Directors and Senior Management
Why are you doing my job?

The average profiles of the management and Board Of Directors of a financial services company are shown below. In recent years, the company has been experiencing high levels of growth in revenue and profits. Most recently there has been increasing friction because the Board has been paying more attention to details and logistics involving mergers and upgrading operations. The Board’s perspective is that management has been paying less than adequate attention to the details of those areas and they need to be more closely supervised.

The management perceives that the Board is doing management’s job. Management has been paying more attention to strategic flexibility and speed and has been at times doing things not quite perfectly but repairing situations as they go. When both groups saw the profiles, they realized the full implications of what was happening. Each group was just naturally paying more attention to the kind of work that gave them the most satisfaction.

One result was that both groups, together, reconsidered what the most appropriate role for the Board should be. They formed three teams, each including Board members and management. Each team independently concluded that 50% of the role of the board should be paying attention to the yellow perspective. The rest of their attention, on average, should be equally divided among the other three perspectives.

How can a Board with low yellow preferences be effective when most of their role is the yellow aspects of their business? The issue begs for a training agenda for the Board that includes strategy development, systems thinking, accessing intuition and discovering the newest trends and opportunities in the world of financial services. The issue also has implications for succession plans for the Board. How can the makeup of the Board be changed over time so that they are, on average, more balanced in thinking preferences?

Software Development Team
Why won’t you give me what I need to do my job?

The chart below shows the profiles of a software development team that was developing an application for a cutting-edge software product for a company that had been very successful for many decades. The circles represent the approximate center of the space that makes up the four-cornered HBDI profile. The leader of the team is represented by the black circle. His staff of software developers and technologists are the gray circles.

One of the major problems in this group was a disagreement between the software developers and the leader concerning leadership style. The developers were pleading for more specific and planned direction and objectives so they could understand what they had to do and what they were accomplishing. The leader was telling them that he didn’t want to give them a lot of specific direction because he believed that it would constrain their creativity. They would have to adapt to operating in ambiguity more than they would like. In addition, they were in a phase of development where much was still unknown and concrete answers were not available. The leader of course, enjoyed operating in ambiguity.

The pattern of the profiles on the HBDI map is obvious. If the profiles were developed early in the formation of the team, as part of a team building process, it probably could have prevented the problem. This kind of style conflict is not unusual in teams. The HBDI profile is an outstanding tool for understanding important team dynamics and what to do to improve collaboration and effectiveness.