Hire more oddballs and learn how to herd cats with different colored headwear

In a previous post I posed three questions that one should ask before trying to make change happen in an organization:

“1) Who is successful or who thrives? Who fails?”

But beyond making change happens, what happens if a group’s make up becomes dominated by the same kinds of people? When a culture starts to dominate a group’s thinking, people in the group start to echo each other. Groups start hiring more people that think or behave just like they do. Whether they form a culture of doers and followers or a culture of collaboration, the impulse to regularly hire for fit can result in homogeneity or sameness. It’s been argued that highly uniform cultures can lead to stagnation. Diverse cultures on the other hand  potentially promote sharing of ideas, innovation, and change.

Has your workplaced hired itself into a "Stepford" culture?

Has your workplace hired itself into a “Stepford” culture?

According to Martin Davidson, companies need to break this habit of building cultures of sameness and hire more “weirdos.” His chief argument is that it’s the odd-duck who potentially contributes to finding the best innovative ideas or solutions. But it’s the manager’s role to ‘harness’ that weirdness and creativity to provide or bring value to the company’s goals.  As he notes:

The key for leaders is to figure out how to support weird people so that they create—not destroy—value for the company. Some of these people have stifled their offbeat creativity out of social fear, camouflaging their true selves because they think it’s not appropriate at work to be as they really are.

Hiring the right kind of weirdos is harder that it seems. Obviously, if managers/leaders have been so dialed into identifying and selecting ‘normals’, then how could they identify a helpful weirdo? As Davidson notes, it’s important for the leadership and hiring groups to understand where their own weaknesses lie. Taking an organizational self-assessment can provide a baseline. If you have more planners and doers in your group, perhaps you need to hire or grow more strategists. If you have more big idea people maybe you need more logistically minded individuals.

Also, ability to communicate effectively despite one’s weirdness is still a necessity in any eligible job candidate. Though if someone is challenged with communicating effectively, it is possible to learn as long as one demonstrates the willingness and capacity to do so. Also, as Davidson hints, communication style differences can also be mitigated by managers and project leads who are savvy at building collaborative bridges and trust within diverse teams. So hiring and promoting managers for their ability and potential to get various work styles to jive in harmony should be considered when reviewing candidates. For groups with highly proactive employees regardless of their talents, an introverted leader is an ideal manager because introverts often allow these highly proactive and talented individuals to contribute and share before diving in and solving problems for them like an extroverted manager might. Extroverted managers impulse to lead by throwing out solutions can stifle and frustrate employees or event prevent developing their capacity for independent proactive problem solving.

Extroverted managers are needed, but with employees or workforces that look solely to leadership for direction or cues for action. My father-in-law likes to refer to them as employees “with a strong back and weak mind.” This type of work culture might not be useful in situations where people need to think quickly and not require their boss for guidance on decisions. For example, teams that rapidly develop solutions or innovation for example, can do better with a leader who lets them solve problems on their own.

So now I have my diverse dream team? How do I get them to work with each other effectively?

In addition to hiring for a diversity of ideas, or behaviors and personalities, once you’ve got a diverse team you need to manage them effectively. Without guidance & trust a diversity of work styles and personalities leads to conflicts and disagreements. This year I observed a training that highlighted Edward de Bono’s Six Hat thinking as a method of promoting different voices in problem solving and collaboration.

The Six Hats encourages a structured discussion/exchange between different styles of thinking from the innovator, the planner, the data collector/analyst, the optimist, the empath, and the skeptic.  This choreographed exchange is designed to promote a balanced approach to working cooperatively to accomplish goals. The process leverages different styles of thinking and viewpoints to come up with solid and viable solutions and processes.

It’s important to note that building trust between all team members is key to achieving success with diverse teams. As many experienced managers know, this is easier said than done.  Establishing trust takes time and real NOT artificially or forced situations such as that uncomfortable team building exercise or roleplaying activity. In the meantime while teams learn how to work with each other effectively, leadership must constantly orient team members to their common goals to promote working collaboratively to reach their aims.

Coming up next… examination of examples of collaborative leadership approaches and how they can help build successful teams in a workplace that demands rapid change.

Your diverse dream team does not have to be the "Island of Misfit Toys." It may require the right type of collaborative leadership to get diverse parties to work with each other effectively.

Your diverse dream team does not have to be the “Island of Misfit Toys.” It may require the right type of collaborative leadership to get diverse parties to work with each other effectively.

Additional Reading:

Looking at decision making from all points of view

The case for recruiting weirdos

Six steps for avoiding group think on your team 

Hire the quiet neurotic not the impressive extrovert

Everything you need to know about the introverted leader


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