Is Your Organization Playing with a Full Deck?

September 3, 2010  

Look at any group of people who effortlessly work well together. Odds are the individuals share a lot in common with each other. They might have similar backgrounds, expertise, interests, or personalities. This is natural. Contrary to conventional wisdom, opposites do not attract. We find it easier to work with people who are like us. As a result, teams that lack diversity are the norm.

In fact, there is plenty of scientific research suggesting that homogeneous teams do indeed perform better than more heterogeneous ones for “low difficulty” tasks – those with lower levels of ambiguity, uncertainty and complexity.

However, research also shows that in situations involving “high difficulty” tasks, heterogeneous groups consistently perform the best. Innovation is, by its very nature, fraught with uncertainty and complexity. It is obviously a high-difficulty task. Although homogeneous teams are more efficient, it is the uniformity of thinking on these types of teams that limits breakthrough ideas and reduces innovation. Ensuring a range of innovation styles should be the goal in constructing such groups in order to maximize team performance.

Unfortunately, diverse teams, left to their own devices, are rarely efficient. Differences of opinion, creative tension, and infighting will naturally emerge. Individuals who think differently do not naturally communicate well with each other. Therefore, it is important that innovation teams be given the tools to “play well together.”

Putting this together, we end up with three simple principles. And these are the three key principles of Personality Poker:

  1. People in your organization must “play to their strong suit.” That is, make sure that everyone understands how they contribute to and detract from the innovation process. This includes ensuring that you have the right people with the right leadership styles in your organization.
  2. As an organization, you need to “play with a full deck.” Embrace a wide range of innovation styles. Instead of hiring on competency and chemistry, also hire for a diversity of innovation styles. Every step of the innovation process must be addressed with people with the right innovation styles.
  3. Deal out the work.” That is, you must divide and conquer. You can’t have everyone in your organization do everything. Instead, get them to divvy up the work based on which style is most effective at a given task. You can’t have everyone generating ideas, or focusing on planning.

Innovation is the life-blood of your organization. It is crucial for long-term growth. Without it, your business will almost certainly become irrelevant and commoditized. Unfortunately, although it is important, it is not always easy. However, applying these three simple principles can help you create high-performing innovation teams that consistently “beat the house.”

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2 Responses to “Is Your Organization Playing with a Full Deck?”

  1. Trudy Lloyd on September 8th, 2010 6:59 am

    Agree with all your points ref innovation teams and especially the importance of heterogenous teams for innovation tasks of high complexity.

    My experience has been that often companies recruit with regard to how employees will handle their operational tasks primarily – managing the current portfolio for example. So the recruiter has in mind optmising those ‘operational’ teams.

    This is as opposed to how people perform in innovation teams. I have found that roles are often primarily designed around operational responsibilities with innovation responsibilities added as a secondary part of the role.

    How to improve on this? Once again, i suggest it is about reminding senior managers to consider innovation more often and to have it as a higher priority.

    It is tough though – particularly in the current climate when it is often SURVIVAL that is at the top of the company’s agenda. Survival is about today’s production, today’s portfolio and today’s sales! – not tomorrow’s.

  2. Julia on September 8th, 2010 9:10 am

    I couldn’t agree more on that.
    Companies should take great considerations that the team is working as a full deck and letting them individually innovate but with a single cause.