Developing deep diversity by harnessing the nine learning styles

Published on
June 26, 2017
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Organizations, communities, and governments want to create highly effective teams. They are encouraged to include members with demographic diversity in order to tap the power of differences. But research shows that with demographic diversity alone, you may experience messiness and process conflict that impact overall team performance. Paying attention only to observable differences may oversimplify the variability in perspective and focus that contribute to real team effectiveness. For example, what if all team members judge too early before identifying an ideal outcome? What if a majority of members are paralyzed by the need for perfection and never get results?

Instead of simply focusing on observable demographic factors, try also considering the deep diversity found in the learning styles described in How You Learn Is How You Live: Using Nine Ways of Learning to Transform Your Life. Research shows that this type of deep diversity is strongly related to conflict management and effective team performance.

To cultivate and realize style diversity in your teams, first develop a deep diversity within yourself by using all nine learning styles. You’ll appreciate the strengths that each style offers and understand how overusing one approach or skipping it entirely impacts your success and limits your choices. You’ll also appreciate the strengths of others whose preferences are different from your own. Here are the nine learning styles and team roles to activate in yourself—and your teams—to summon the deep diversity that allows you and your team to reach full potential.

Experiencing style. Activate your Connector by engaging in relationships, staying in the present moment, and recognizing your feelings.
Ask: “Am I present?”

Imagining style. Activate your Dreamer by imagining possibilities and generating new ideas about what might be.
Ask: “What are the possibilities?”

Reflecting style. Activate your Observer by taking many perspectives and mulling things over patiently before taking action.
Ask: “Am I listening carefully and seeing the whole picture?”

Analyzing style. Activate your Planner by organizing and structuring your environment and the information you need to consider.
Ask: “Do I have structure in place to support me?”

Thinking style. Activate your Questioner by being a healthy skeptic to investigate and evaluate the facts.
Ask: “What does the evidence prove?”

Deciding style. Activate your Judge by committing to one plan, setting a goal and knowing how you’ll measure progress.
Ask: “Have I committed to an outcome?”

Acting style. Activate your Achiever by getting things done on time, even if you have limited resources.
Ask: “Am I making things happen?”

Initiating style. Activate your Influencer by courageously taking the lead in the moment.
Ask: “Do I seize new opportunities?”

Balancing style. Activate your Adapter to pivot when situations change or you identify gaps.
Ask: “Do I adapt when priorities shift?”

You may notice that you favor some styles simply because you’ve been successful using them. You develop a sweet spot through practice that allows you to operate in a steady state. However, these preferences are not traits; they are habits of learning. You can build flexibility in styles that are unfamiliar through practice. As you develop flexibility in all the learning styles, you’ll be activating your own internal team that will allow you to deploy all parts of you as a whole person and to face any situation more effectively.

Meanwhile, to create teams with deep diversity, consider tapping people whose preferred styles are different from your own. The map of the nine learning styles will give your entire team a model to understand and appreciate their strengths and differences. And, because the nine styles correspond to nine steps in any process like decision-making and teamwork, it will give you a process map to follow, too. If you don’t know what to do next, you can find where you are on the learning cycle and take the next step.

The deep diversity of the nine learning styles will make you more effective in any situation, and will help demographically diverse teams to harness the powerful synergy that arises when learning style differences are identified and expanded.

Kay Peterson is an executive coach, OD consultant and a founder of the Institute of Experiential Learning and Harlan Peterson Partners. You can read more about her at