Cognitive diversity is a vital aspect of successful teams. Studies reported in the Harvard Business Review, hiring practices and numerous case studies over the years have revealed the importance of differing perspectives and their positive impact on innovation and problem solving.
While we understand that we need cognitive diversity, it can be challenging for teams to create an environment where people who think and behave differently all feel encouraged to contribute.
In my book Work That Works, I talk about the Emergenetics approach to fostering cognitive diversity in Principle #4: Creating a Meeting of the Minds. In practice, we create a Whole Emergenetics team, or WEteam, to bring together unique perspectives.
To provide context, I’ll start by defining a WEteam.
A WEteam is a team composed of members that have a preference in each Thinking Attribute (Analytical, Structural, Social and Conceptual) and have representation across the spectrum of Behavioral Attributes (Expressiveness, Assertiveness and Flexibility). At least one member of the team must also have a preference in three or more Thinking Attributes so they can help the WEteam more easily facilitate discussions.
By ensuring that we have each thinking and a range of behavioral preferences represented, we know that we are bringing a cognitively diverse team to the table. This approach has helped us to take advantage of a number of opportunities at Emergenetics, and whenever we need to tackle a business objective, we start by putting together a WEteam.
For more details on how to build your own WEteam, I’d encourage you to read my book. What I will focus on in the remainder of this blog is how to make sure that your WEteam is effective after you have created it.
When you have differing perspectives, you may find that some tensions arise. Perhaps you work in an environment that is quite data-driven and may overlook the relational aspect of business. Perhaps your culture is largely made up of gregarious individuals who want to process out loud and forget to ask for input from their introspective counterparts.
Even when you have a group of cognitively diverse individuals, you may not reap the benefits unless each team member feels comfortable to share their ideas.
So, how do you create an environment where everyone can offer their brilliant perspectives? Build a culture where all thinking and behavioral attributes feel psychologically safe.
To do so, here are a few tips that support each Emergenetics Attribute:
- Allow team members the freedom to ask questions. Analytical thinkers are often considering the accuracy of information. When they are working in a team, it is important to give them space to ask questions and probe further into the ideas being discussed.
- Respect each other’s time. Time management is often important to Structural thinkers, and they may keep strict schedules. Start and end your sessions on time, provide an agenda and give advance notice of changes, so these team members’ preferences are honored.
- Care for one another. Social thinkers are relational and empathic. They feel encouraged when they are working in an environment that cares about them and their teammates.
- Ensure that team members can share ideas openly. Conceptual thinkers want to know they have the freedom to share their thoughts and brainstorm without judgment.
- Allow for silence and open discussion. When we consider Expressiveness, teams may be split between those who prefer to process their thoughts internally, those who process out loud and others where it depends. To create an environment where all feel encouraged, let team members know that they will have time to think and won’t be put on the spot to provide an opinion, while also providing those in the third-third with an opportunity to speak their minds.
- Allow for calm, measured debate. When we consider Assertiveness, your team members may prefer a peacekeeping environment, a driving culture or somewhere in between. To accommodate teammates across the Assertiveness spectrum, make sure they understand that differing opinions should be expressed with respect. This will allow driving team members to engage in debate while ensuring peacekeeping teammates have a drama-free environment.
- Allow for many viewpoints while supporting focus. On the Flexibility spectrum, some of your team members may like to have many options, others will prefer to focus on one thing at a time and for others it may depend. Encourage your team to consider many different perspectives, and when a direction is decided upon, try to stick to it. If the decision must be changed, make sure all team members understand the reasoning.
Creating a psychologically safe space is vital if you are going to successfully engage a cognitively diverse team, so set ground rules that allow for each of your team members to feel comfortable expressing their perspectives.
For more tips on creating a WEteam and utilizing cognitive diversity, I encourage you to read Work That Works and review the templates in Principle #4 for ideas on how to help your WEteam succeed.
Next month, I look forward to uncovering how you can unleash your team’s potential, using the Power of WE (whether you have a full WEteam or not!).