How to Build a High-Performing, Diverse Super Team

According to a November study by the Institute for Corporate Productivity, or i4cp, high-performing organizations place a higher premium on workforce diversity and inclusion than their lower performing competitors. The study also revealed that these higher performing organizations place a higher value on leaders’ ability to work effectively with diverse stakeholders.

It’s well understood that the best teams have people who bring a variety of perspectives and cognitive approaches to a group. That intuitively makes sense, but what about being qualified and a good team fit? Aren’t those even more important? These questions are often posed as if these various factors are mutually exclusive. But these are distinct elements of a team, which if properly optimized will yield the type of high-performing super team for which the highest performing organizations around the globe are known.

Consider a company like Disney. Disney hires people who have the core skills needed to be cooks, greeters, performers, tour guides, etc. These employees, who come from across the world, bring a multitude of formative experiences and cognitive approaches. Yet, these diverse, multiskilled individuals all share a cohesive glue that makes them work effectively in teams. They have fully aligned motivations that support one mission: to provide guests with a magical experience. That, in a nutshell, is the magic formula — bringing together groups of qualified people who bring diverse perspectives and whose internal motivations align them around a commonly shared outcome.  

To learn more about this, read “Start with Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action,” by Simon Sinek. The book makes a great case for the importance of teaming up with those who share and/or support our why, or our mission. Or if you are short on time and looking for an overview, check out Sinek’s TED Talk Start with Why.

Here are three simple steps to build your own high-performing, diverse and inclusive super team:

  1. First, make sure you hire and/or promote people who possess the basic job requirements. A required skill, unlike a preferred characteristic, is something someone must have to perform a particular job. For example, the ability to program in the C-language is a requirement for programmers. To determine if a candidate has the required skills, obtain a work sample. There are many ways to do this. NBC’s “The Voice” holds auditions for performing artists. Software companies ask prospective team members for a sample of past work that approximates what they will be expected to do in the new role. When examining this work sample, focus solely on the person’s output and determine if it meets the job requirements.
  2. Next, make sure candidates are aligned around a “why” that will support your company and team’s core mission. If your company exists to make computing power available to the everyday person, you don’t want to hire someone whose core motivating why is to create a strong class distinction between the technical haves and have-nots.

    On the other hand, if your company’s mission is to create and distribute new, affordable, and accessible forms of energy, you might do well to hire and/or promote people who are motivated by the thought of helping society grow through access to resources.

    There are many assessments available online that will help you determine what motivates your candidate’s behavior. Make sure these motivations or the “why”they do what they do align with your organizational mission. If they don’t, no matter how well candidates meet job skill requirements, I recommend you pass on those hires.

  3. Finally, increase the cognitive diversity you include in your team. Mark Miller, vice president of marketing at Emergenetics International, recently published a great article “Improve Teamwork by Utilizing Cognitive Collaboration,” where he stresses the importance of avoiding the Maslow’s Hammer effect. This effect occurs when a team has a singular group-think and group-act approach because members are too cognitively homogeneous — every problem appears to be a nail, because everyone has a cognitive hammer.

    Miller, whose company has identified seven distinct thinking and behavioral stylesand a number of behavioral attributes, recommends building teams that include all of these styles and attributes. Emergenetics International also offers tools that maximize collaboration between these styles to effectively pool these capabilities across the team. Once you find candidates who have the required skills and are aligned with your mission, broaden your cognitive diversity and put tools in place to support effective, inclusive collaboration across your highly diverse team.

    “Recognizing the need for cognitive diversity is critical, but the activation of different perspectives is what takes teams and organizations to high performance. Collaboration becomes a tool to access a company’s “why” in more distinctive and boundless ways. And that means that organizations are more aligned internally and externally to their customers,” Miller said.

In today’s highly competitive, rapidly evolving business ecosystems, no organization can afford to have teams where any member lacks the skills, commitment or cognitive breadth of vision and perspective needed to be a super team. By optimizing each of these factors, any new or existing team can be transformed into one that effectively meets the opportunities and challenges of the 21st century — they can become a high-performing diverse and inclusive super team.