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For your staff to adapt to shorter business cycles and the need for continual innovation, they have to be kitted out with the best possible cognitive toolbox — one that will help them devise new solutions in real time. Here are tips on how to create proactive teams that capitalize on members’ complementary skills.

Optimizing teamwork is more important today than it has ever been. You may think that going solo will allow you to reach your goal more quickly, but, in fact, pooling diverse talents allows you to generate disruptive solutions that are tailored to our turbulent times. Author Shane Snow argues that the most enterprising companies routinely promote healthy confrontation between opposing points of view because collective intelligence can’t be conjured out of thin air: it needs to be worked on. If you don’t handle your team properly, its diversity can quickly become a disruptive force that shatters collective work. A subtle balance is necessary to take advantage of the differences between your employees and attain optimal collaboration. Within a dream team, divergent views create a wealth of ideas that combine to produce exceptional levels of performance.

Diversity: a fundamental virtue for innovating and adjusting

Is your organization faced with increasingly complex problems that are impossible to solve using methods that have worked in the past? Snow recommends upping the cognitive diversity of your troops. Your teams should be made up of a patchwork of different profiles, points of view, and skills. These should be rich and varied enough to fashion tailor-made answers based on the synergy between the contrasting approaches employed.

Diverse teams are the keystones to performance. Homogenous teams are effective at following procedures and performing repetitive work. But in the age of artificial intelligence, these teams are outperformed by machines, which do the same job but faster. For assignments requiring creativity and imagination — human input, in other words — even a group of star performers, all cast from the same mold (similar university courses and career paths), is outclassed by a group of less remarkable individuals with varied profiles. A diverse team with a rich cognitive toolbox is a unique and irreplaceable source of innovation and adaptability.

• When different points of view go head to head, it challenges the status quo — and helps unearth hidden gems. To avoid stasis, you need to foster divergent thinking and cultivate agents provocateurs who oppose the consensus. When somebody voices a minority opinion in a team (even if it’s a highly unlikely view), it stimulates curiosity. It’s a way of exiting your comfort zone of ready-made solutions that may be becoming obsolete. For instance, instead of polling average consumers, why not try focus groups of your most “extreme” users? These users would be much more likely to generate disruptive ideas that could inspire your future lead products. A pharmaceutical giant boosted its market share by upgrading its foot blister
pads (an aging flagship product) after seeking the advice of professional dominatrices and army soldiers. These two groups, both of which used the bandages under extreme conditions (when wearing stilettos or military boots), were an important source of innovations that were pertinent to all consumers.

Pitfalls to avoid so you can capitalize on all talents

Simply declaring that you’re going to diversify a team’s skills will not guarantee a fruitful
outcome.

Excerpt from Business Digest N°293, February 2019

To go further

Read the full 3-part feature

Point of view

Cognitive diversity: the secret of dream teams

Interview with Carol Vallone

The art of merging two diametrically opposed teams

It's up to you!

Turning your team into a dream team

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