I used to think that the purpose of creating diversity on a team was simply to give people of various races and orientations equal opportunities. When I create a team, my main concern is achieving the business goal, not being a do-gooder in society, so I never cared too much about intentionally creating diversity on a team. That was before I understood that diversity is a key requirement for a team to reach the heights of innovation and agility.
Diversity in beliefs and approaches are just the ticket for creating the capacity for agility and handling greater complexity, both of which are needed to innovate. A good example of this is when I was on a team that produced applications to run warehouses, and we were experiencing lots of system outages that were frustrating our customers. We had outsourced our data center to a vendor I’ll call “Acme Infrastructure Services (AIS)”. To put it bluntly, the vendor wasn’t performing, and our team was ready to pounce on them.
We were planning a meeting in which we were going to angrily throw our service level agreements in their face and invoke penalties. Then one person on the team, Barbara, said quietly “I think we should embrace AIS as a partner.” My first thought was “Don’t be such a wimp! We need to show them who the boss is!” But our team culture was that everyone got their say, so I kept quiet, and we patiently let Barbara explain her point of view. She said “If we show AIS how improving their service will help us gain customers and use more of their services, I think they’ll turn around.” As we listened to Barbara, the light went on for all of us. It made sense. Engaging them as a partner made a lot more sense than being adversarial.
It worked. AIS bought in and made investments (at no cost to us) in additional training for their technicians and in some failover equipment. They improved their service to us, and we improved our service to our customers. We gained more customers and used more of AIS’s services. It was a win-win, and we could have never achieved such optimal results with the old school method of beating them up.
Diversity of thought is crucial, yet it’s only beneficial when the interpersonal relationships within the team are secure. If Barbara hadn’t been sure that we’d listen, she wouldn’t have had the courage to speak up. Team dynamics that honor the different thoughts and experiences of each member and then link them together not only provide broader perspective, they also literally rewire the brains of each team member. As our team listened to Barbara and it “clicked” for us that there was a better approach, this activated and stimulated the growth of neurons in our brains. It literally rewired the neuronal fibers in our nervous system and provided expanded brainpower to help us deal with this and other complex situations.
Diversity of thought is vital to a team’s success, yet it’s important that all team members are uniformly “on the same wavelength”. Research at the Institute of HeartMath shows that a subtle yet influential electromagnetic communication system operates just below our conscious awareness. We have proof that this communication exists because the electromagnetic pattern broadcasted from one person’s heart can be scientifically measured in another person’s brainwaves when two people are in close proximity. It seems we are always transferring non-verbal information that reflects our emotional disposition. The most innovative teams are those that share a basic emotional resonance, which helps them connect at a deep level and operate in a more coherent state that facilitates creative thinking. So ideally teams possess diversity of thought and uniformity of resonance.
As we learn more from neuroscience about the incredible power of emotions in teams, we see reasons to adopt techniques beyond the ordinary. For more on shaping team emotions to increase creativity and performance, get notified of the upcoming book Primal Teams: Harnessing the Incredible Power of Group Energy or sign up for a monthly summary of articles.Share