I was recently in the Middle East, in Amman, Jordan, having lunch at a local restaurant. At the next table, there was a woman in full burka seated with three men. The men were chatting away while the woman sat there struggling to eat and drink through her burka. I could have easily been irritated by the limitations that her society put on her, requiring her to wear such garb, but I was more struck by what her society is losing because of these limitations. The societies that are thriving these days are the ones that can handle the greatest complexity, and this requires integrating diverse perspectives, such as the masculine and the feminine. It’s becoming increasingly difficult to compete when you’ve only embraced one side of a spectrum. We can see clear evidence of this in business, and neuroscience proves it beyond doubt.
Consider Paul, the CEO of a trucking company, with whom I used to work. Paul was an authoritative leader and wouldn’t listen to differing perspectives from his employees unless they had the guts to challenge him. His reasoning was that if an employee didn’t have the guts to be adversarial with him, they weren’t strong enough to be heard. He thought he was ensuring the survival of the fittest, but the irony is that the fittest team is the one that is inclusive, because they are building the capabilities to handle the greatest complexity. Paul learned this the hard way.
Shutting down the perspectives of others is severely limiting in business, and Paul shows us why. He was wired for competition, and believed that under-bidding and putting other trucking companies out of business was the way to win. The reality is that yes, it’s important to be able to compete, yet his company was eventually out-done by others that knew when to compete by showing they were the best and when to collaborate by building partnerships. Paul should have listened to those who understood the power of collaboration. Similarly, Paul was fanatical about making decisions based on data analytics rather than gut feeling. It’s true that data analytics are powerful and important, yet Paul’s company eventually fell behind more innovative competitors that knew when to rely on data and when to use intuitive insight. He would have benefitted by listening to those who understood the power of intuition. Paul didn’t survive long in his position.
Paul may be an extreme example, but I question how many teams truly embrace diversity and inclusivity of thought. Our world has become too complex for narrow thinking. It used to be effective for a strong-willed leader to impose his perspective. But now we need to move away from “either or” thinking and into “both and”. We get there by honoring diversity and inclusion, which even helps develop our brains to handle greater complexity.
Team communication that honors the different thoughts and experiences of each member and then links them together not only provides broader perspective, it also literally rewires the brains of each team member. When people are exposed to different ways of thinking and they truly listen until it “clicks” for them, this activates and stimulates the growth of neurons in the brain. It literally rewires the neuronal fibers in the nervous system and provides the brainpower required to deal with greater complexity.
I used to think that diversity and inclusion were only about everyone having equal rights, but now I see that they are crucial to the thriving of a team or society. As we learn more from neuroscience about the incredible power of group emotions, we see reasons to adopt techniques beyond the ordinary. For more on shaping team emotions to increase creativity and performance, including research references, 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