Have you ever wondered why a team of smart, experienced people aren’t performing well? It’s not a lack of skills. More likely there’s a breakdown in something deeper that precludes their ability to generate ideas, get things done or perform at high levels.

This can happen as a result of many things, but in my mind, it really breaks down to two factors.

1. Does the team have the diversity of thought to come at things from different perspectives or are they a one-note band?

2. Even if there are multiple perspectives, does the team have the requisite openness, trust and communication to allow divergent thinking and ideas to flourish?

From our research into psychology and human behavior, we know that thinking is manifested four distinct areas–Conceptual, Social, Analytical and Structural. We also know that every person falls somewhere along a spectrum of behavior in three arenas: Expressiveness, Assertiveness, and Flexibility.

Cognitive Diversity: The Golden Ring

Teams that exhibit a full spectrum of these seven attributes are the goal. We call it a Whole Emergenetics (WE) approach to team building, and it is incredibly powerful in practice.

It’s easy to see how this approach works–diverse teams have all the tools at their disposal. They’re critical thinkers, innovators, and organized and empathic all at once. They can be accommodating or firm, process internally or be gregarious, and be peacekeepers or drivers, whatever the task requires.

Diverse teams have the ability to see every perspective and put the strength of each individual team member to work toward the common goal. Teams that lack that diversity are unbalanced in one way or another and that imbalance erodes effectiveness over time.

A group leaning heavily toward one thinking preference may excel in the formation of ideas, but lack the ability to formulate a clear plan and see the project through the end. Or great at planning and follow through, but short on ideas.

Another group may have the potential to embrace diverse speaking, but it doesn’t actually value or elicit all perspectives. A team led by a few driving, gregarious people may never let others speak, especially those on the quiet end of the Expressiveness spectrum. Valuable thinking and ideas are lost.

How to Achieve It

Chances are you’re not going to just stumble across a cognitively diverse team in the wild. You need to be deliberate. If you have a tool like Emergenetics to uncover preferences, that’s great, but if not, you can apply these tactics.

Ask for volunteers to fulfill roles. If you’re a team leader, you can see inklings of how team members think. Ask the team for volunteers who can naturally bring a perspective of Analytical, Structural, Social and Conceptual thinking to the table. Make sure they’re responsible for the perspective. Do the same for Expressiveness, Assertiveness and Flexibility–you need representation from across each spectrum.

Put tasks and projects into a diverse approach. Any initiative the team works on can be seen through the lens of cognitive diversity. If you’re having a meeting, ensure that you approach it from all seven attributes. As you come up with solutions, put it into a framework and test it out against the full thinking and behavioral spectrum–does it speak to Analytical concerns for example? Is it resonant for Structural thinkers? Ask this question for each attribute.

The potential for cognitive diversity exists for all groups and teams whether they are naturally diverse or not. In reality, unbalanced teams exist. What’s important is that you as a leader are in touch with the team dynamic and take a deliberate approach to assigning work and creating teams. With conscious effort, balance can be achieved and potential unlocked and channeled into results.