Intuitively, we all understand that it’s important to have different perspectives represented in the workplace. If you would like more than intuition, read these case studies that articulate the value of cognitive diversity in product development and problem solving, or read Harvard Business Review’s article: “Teams Solve Problems Faster When They’re More Cognitively Diverse.”
Simply put, cognitive diversity leads to faster problem solving, better solutions and innovation. These outputs in turn allow your organization to effectively address business opportunities, deliver better services to your clients and stay ahead of the competition.
In practice, the challenge of cognitive diversity lies not in helping businesses understand its importance; instead, it lies in effectively utilizing these different perspectives.
Let’s address four common challenges that organizations face when it comes to cognitive diversity.
- How do you build a cognitively diverse workforce?
- How do you help employees recognize their preferred ways of thinking and behaving, and those of their team?
- How do you keep cognitive diversity top of mind across the organization?
- How do you manage potential conflict so the business can thrive?
1. How do you build a more cognitively diverse workforce?
A study from the Kellogg School of Management revealed hiring managers tend to recruit people who have similar tastes, interests and experiences as their own. While similarities might make it easy to get along with the manager, they have little bearing on job performance. Moreover, this sort of recruitment process results in the problem of like hiring like, or similarity bias.
When people who think and act similarly work together, they tend to get the same solutions rather than unique, creative ideas.
To build a cognitively diverse workforce, your organization should invest in tools to help you hire based on job needs – not personality similarities.
One of the best ways to do that is using a hiring assessment like the Emergenetics® Selection Program to identify the motivations and skills a new hire needs and assess candidates against these requirements. Doing so ensures that you objectively select applicants based on the needs of the role – not the preferences of existing employees.
2. How do you help employees recognize their preferred ways of thinking and behaving and those of their team?
Before you can harness cognitive diversity, you need to understand how people think. That way, you can seek out those who are different. To gain self-awareness, we recommend using an assessment like the Emergenetics Profile. The Profile describes four thinking Attributes (Analytical, Structural, Social and Conceptual) and three behavioral Attributes (Expressiveness, Assertiveness and Flexibility). When individuals take the Profile questionnaire, they discover their thinking and behavioral preferences and the gifts that come along with them.
Through our Meeting of the Minds workshop, employees learn about themselves and discover the power of each Attribute, which helps individuals learn about their colleagues’ strengths, understand how their thinking and behavioral preferences differ from teammates and discover the value of different perspectives.
3. How do you keep cognitive diversity top of mind across the organization?
After teams discover their preferences and the value of differing perspectives, organizations may still struggle with making cognitive diversity part of their day-to-day business practices.
Here are a few recommendations to bring it to life in your workplace:
- Encourage employees to post their Profiles at their desks. The visual display provides co-workers with an easy reminder of everyone’s thinking and behavioral preferences. When they are stuck on a problem, employees can use this visual to easily identify coworkers who will bring different perspectives.
- Download the Emergenetics+ app. When employees download Emergenetics+ and connect with each other, they can use the app to get personalized communication tips based on the Profiles of their connections, which can improve your meetings, presentations and business proposals.
- Build project teams through WEteams. A WEteam is a group of individuals that have every thinking Attribute and a range of behavioral Attributes represented. Emergenetics Associates can help project leads and managers identify individuals who will help round out a WEteam. I also suggest that you look at your intact teams and see if any Attribute is underrepresented. Consider identifying a few individuals who have a preference in this Attribute and use them as sounding boards for your projects.
- Try WEboarding. At Emergenetics, we use WEboarding to ensure that we incorporate cognitive diversity. Get 10 pieces of paper – one for each thinking Attribute as well as the first- and third-third of each behavioral Attribute – and post them around your meeting space. When working on a project, use these pieces of paper as a guide to make sure you raise ideas and considerations that reflect every Attribute.
4. How do you manage potential conflict so the business can thrive?
When differing perspectives come together, there is potential for conflict. Some conflict is productive; some is not. It is important to manage disagreements so individuals feel safe to offer their perspectives. In fact, Harvard Business Review recently published an article by Alison Reynolds and David Lewis sharing that the two keys for successful problem solving are cognitive diversity and psychological safety.
So, when disagreements arise, use the Emergenetics template to minimize unproductive conflict. For a place to begin, consider these approaches.
- When working with those who have an Analytical preference, give an accurate, unbiased assessment of the situation about which both parties can agree before working on a solution.
- When working with those who have a Structural preference, determine the next steps that needs to be taken to resolve the disagreement and establish a timeline.
- When working with those who have a Social preference, make the conversation positive by tapping into empathy and simply saying something nice. Be kind.
- When working with those who have a Conceptual preference, offer to brainstorm solutions together.
- When working with first-third Expressiveness, allow additional time to process the situation. For third-third Expressiveness, allow them to talk through the misalignment.
- When working with first-third Assertiveness, be aware that they may not present their perspective to keep the peace, so do not push them. For third-third Assertiveness, understand that they may want to drive the disagreement forward to come to a resolution.
- When working with first-third Flexibility, try to pick one resolution and move forward with limited changes. For third-third Flexibility, be aware that they may want to take a new approach to resolve the disagreement.
To further strengthen team dynamics, consider using Power of WE workshops like Building Trust or Respecting Differences to help employees best work together and maximize cognitive diversity.
By building strategies to manage conflict, incorporating differing perspectives into your organizational practices and helping cognitive diversity remain top of mind, your company will harness the power of cognitive diversity and use it to your advantage to change the way you approach problem solving and innovation, leading to powerful business results.
Interested in strengthening problem solving and fostering innovation at your company? Contact our team to discuss how Emergenetics can support cognitive diversity in your organization.