Diversity initiatives are now a frequent trending topic in the world of HR. However, beyond gender, ethnicity, age, and ability, there is one aspect that is consistently missing from the conversation—cognitive diversity. It is no secret why the issue of cognitive diversity is overlooked: it is much harder to integrate into recruitment processes. There is no box for candidates to check to identify their cognitive styles, but there are cognitive assessments that can be implemented in the initial application process and throughout interviews.

Though some recruitment firms and companies already assess the cognitive styles of candidates, hiring managers rarely consider the results holistically. Recruiters evaluate a candidate’s personality when there is a particular type that is most successful in a role. However, for positions in a highly-collaborative team, perhaps hiring managers should implement a different approach.

Different Cognitive Styles Enhance Performance

According to a study by Anita Williams Woolley, associate professor of organizational behavior and theory at Carnegie Mellon University, teams achieve the highest collective intelligence and productivity with the right balance of cognitive diversity. From a talent acquisition perspective, this means that hiring managers should take a holistic approach by evaluating their current employees’ cognitive styles and determining what the teams are missing. Then, the missing cognitive styles should be enhancing qualifiers in searches for ideal candidates.

Woolley explains that the “right” balance follows the Goldilocks principle: not too little diversity and not too much. A group that lacks diversity may experience stagnation in productivity, creativity, and collaboration. A group with too much diversity, however, may not be able to come agreements on decisions.

When teams strike the ideal balance of cognitive diversity, they show enhanced performance and more efficiently adapt to obstacles and change.

Hiring managers and company leaders should take into account that cognitive diversity is separate from an individual’s personality. On sales or marketing teams, the collective nature of the teams may be homogeneous. But among similar personalities, there should be an even balance of cognitive styles—the way individuals process information. Cognitively diverse teams experience higher levels of efficiency and develop more creative strategies.

What is the Ideal Balance of Cognitive Diversity?

Clinical psychologist Laura Muggli breaks professional cognitive styles into two categories:

Analytical thinkers and Intuitive thinkers.

Analytical Thinkers:

Professionals classified as analytical thinkers prefer to strategize and problem-solve using logic and careful analysis. They pay close attention to detail and come to fair, impartial, safe decisions. Analytical thinkers can be broken down further into two categories: knowing style and planning style. 


  • Knowing Style 
    • These professionals value data and precedent. Knowing style thinkers are highly analytical and logical, and come to decisions after analyzing every possible outcome and selecting the most rational. 


  • Planning Style 
    • Planning style thinkers place more emphasis on organization. These individuals will trade data and precedent for structure, order, and constructive feedback. 


Intuitive Thinkers:

Professionals classified as intuitive thinkers take a more holistic strategy. To these professionals, objective data comes secondary to creativity and imagination. On a well-balanced team, intuitive thinkers are the ones that dream big and develop formidable goals, and the analytical team members either tone down the goals or develop a detailed, thoughtful strategy to meet those goals.

In most groups, there are typically a few individuals who fall somewhere in the middle of the analytical-intuitive spectrum. They are identified as adaptive thinkers. In a collaborative professional setting, these individuals are the group facilitators who bridge situational gaps.

For optimal productivity and efficiency, employers should strive for an equal distribution of analytical and intuitive thinkers in every group with a handful of adaptive thinkers to moderate strategic discussions.

How to Build Cognitively Diverse Teams:

Company leaders, hiring managers, or team leads should first understand the cognitive styles of their current workforce. Many comprehensive “personality” tests such as the Myers-Briggs provide insight into an individual’s cognitive style. Another popular workplace assessment is the color test, which categorizes individuals based on traits and behaviors.

Company leaders should periodically test the cognitive styles and behaviors of their workforce to ensure that there is an even balance within departments, and to break down teams within departments effectively. Then, when there is an opening within a department or team, recruiters can seek candidates with the cognitive style that is needed for cognitive equilibrium.

In recruitment efforts, comprehensive cognitive assessments should only be given to the short-list of candidates possessing the desired hard and soft skills for the role. Whether the HR experts conducting the search choose to ask behavioral questions and “what-if” scenarios in the interview or ask candidates to complete an assessment, these results should be used as an additional factor to make hiring decisions easier.