Need for closure personalities hurt workplaces

Need for closure

Need for closure is obviously a common term you hear around relationships, etc. But did you know the concept of need for closure is also a psychological construct about people in certain group dynamics, i.e. meetings? You can probably figure out what it means, but it’s a person who is essentially averse to brainstorming or “kicking around ideas.” They want to be done with that, get to the plan, and hit the execution/implementation stage. In essence, they are usually either (a) uncomfortable with uncertainty or (b) really like the check-boxes part of work, maybe because it’s slightly more clear than kicking around ideas. (“I do A then I do B!”)

The problem is, this need for closure personality doesn’t work so well in the modern business world. Well, in general.

Art Markman on need for closure and ideation

UT-Austin professor Art Markman wrote this article on brainstorming and why it’s always handled wrong. (That would be correct.) In it, he talks about a 6-3-5 method for ideation. You get six people at a table (6!), they each write down three ideas (3!), and they pass those ideas to the right. This happens five times (5!). Each time the next person adds to those previous ideas. Everyone participates, and there’s a lot of ideas out there when the exercise is done. Plus it’s not verbal so you avoid the forced brainstorming bullshit where everyone just repeats what the last person said.

The problem in these situations is that while the concept is good, a need for closure person is nervous and twitchy the whole time. Can’t we get onto the deliverables? Work is messy these days, though — not as cut-and-dried as putting widgets together in a plant. It’s “VUCA,” where the “U” even stands for uncertainty. Need for closure don’t like uncertainty, so maybe it’s not the best team member these days.

Two caveats, though!

Eventually, shit has to get done. You can’t throw ideas around all day. So if your need for closure team member is the one pushing that, good. That would be a good role for him/her.

The other major caveat is that we always talk about innovation, entrepreneurship, and ideas, etc. Fact is, though, companies are becoming more bureaucratic and largely hiring train-mover middle managers for those clogged ranks. And while we talk about wanting “innovative team members,” the fact is most companies still promote exclusively off execution. So if all anyone cares about is execution and a need for closure personality type is the one driving that, he/she might get promoted faster — even though his/her actions might be dooming the team to a lesser solution. Ironic, eh?

The big picture

Bottom line would be: work priorities are often unclear and managers often have no clue what they want on a project anyway. In those environments, I suppose ‘need for closure’ managers and team members aid us all. Because if it’s going to be a sense of urgency slopfest anyway, we might as well cut to the chase faster. And need for closure could help us there.

Ted Bauer

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