The power of having cognitive diversity in the workplace is the same power that companies try to attain through strong leadership and great communication. It’s a more inclusive, collaborative, and open space where people feel empowered to create and implement ideas.
Workforce diversity isn’t simply about fairness—thankfully most organizations have moved beyond that low threshold to realize that greater workplace diversity means that inherently more people have been considered suitable for the workplace. This should in turn lead to smarter, more motivated, and better fitting employees since there would be no artificial barriers to entry.
I want to include cognitive diversity into the mix as a critical component for a broader and more productive workplace. Think about it this way- are organizations limiting their potential by hiring and promoting the same kinds of thinkers? Are we promoting employees to higher levels, and thus more influence over performance, based on a set way of thinking?
In the same way that widening the talent pool by including more women, all races and ethnicities, all ages, backgrounds, and locations have created stronger organizations, cognitive diversity—the way employees think, act, and are motivated—can augment work already being done.
Let’s put cognitive diversity in really practical terms. A team needs to develop a new software update in 6 months in order to stay ahead of the market. The team has already created the software and are very familiar with how things work. The team is also highly focused on deadlines, is adept at creating processes for getting things done and analyzing potential improvements. The team is also busy-bee, head-down, don’t-bother-me types who can code for hours at a time.
This works great for getting the exact software update out the door without bugs and on time.
But, what if the market shifts? The company’s sales team senses a need that hadn’t been considered and they go to the dev team and let them know that client needs and market demand has shifted. What does this team do?
My guess is that they think the sales team doesn’t get it. They may be focused on getting it done as it was set up and doing that perfectly. They may even have a hard time understanding why the changes need to be made—the fixes seem insignificant from a results standpoint but take a lot of work and effort from a development standpoint.
This development team is made up of a group of brilliant, highly Structural thinkers. They prefer a focused environment on a behavioral Flexibility scale and probably bring Analytical thinking into the mix frequently. These characteristics come from the Emergenetics Profile, but they are measurable in any organization.
What are they missing? What would a more cognitively diverse team bring?
- If there were team members (still highly skilled in software development and coding) who naturally thought in a Social, relational manner, the needs of the sales team and the ultimate customer may be more strongly brought to the surface.
- If there were team members who were in the gregarious, talkative end of the Expressiveness spectrum, perhaps communication would have been more frequent between sales and development.
- If there were a team member who actually welcomed change (not just dealt with it), the prospect of going in a new direction might be thrilling and could be explained in a new way.
This is the power of cognitive diversity in a very real way. Work is fluid, and the more adaptable, multifaceted, and layered your workforce is, the better your organization will be able to respond.
For more ideas on how cognitive diversity can enhance organizations, check out my article for Innovation Excellence, The Power of Cognitive Diversity on Innovation.