Is there such a thing as a perfect team? Probably not. But is there scientific proof showing that teams that communicate more frequently, encompass diverse mindsets, and bring a broad base of experience and expertise will perform at higher levels than any old team? Absolutely.
The numbers are actually pretty staggering. Teams that capitalized on this nexus of diversity and communication outperformed other teams by huge margins. They weren't just more productive and more innovative. They literally created greater financial results.
What is the science behind this? Well, it starts with the kind of communication that works best. According to research from MIT's Human Dynamics Laboratory, that means face-to-face conversations. That's why meetings, whether virtual or, ideally, in person, are still critical. They also need to happen in more informal ways--think sidebar conversations and quick-hit instant messages. Whatever the water cooler looks like in today's business world, those conversations are still vital.
The other big idea for stronger, more effective teams is getting different perspectives. Stratified, siloed teams don't cut it anymore. It isn't just a good idea to bring in people from various capacities; it is imperative to business success. Think about the last product you rolled out. Most likely you had people from finance, marketing, sales, IT, and business processing in the development process. If you were smart, you had clients and outside testers in the room. If you were really smart, you had a way to ensure that you had a cognitively diverse set of minds in the room.
Now that you know the recipe for better teams, here's how to make it happen. These 10 ingredients will ensure that you get the right people together and communicating in a way that drives results.
- Break old habits. Invite new people to the issue. It's great that you have a rock star strategic thinker in your organization, and she should be in the discussion. But what about your administrative assistant? Have you ever invited her to the table? Chances are, she's got great ideas, because she's interacting with the top leaders and big clients every day.
- Be less concerned about title or formal role. I just recently talked to our VP of education, whose role focuses solely on working with schools, universities, and students, about how we could best structure a product for our business suite. She doesn't interact with our business clients at all, but she had great insights that were easy to apply.
- Call out the reasons each individual was invited to participate and what someone is expected to contribute. Clarity is paramount, but it's also a great way to highlight different perspectives and areas of expertise.
- Reinforce cognitive diversity by creating a safe place. Let the team know that different thinking is not just tolerated but encouraged. Encourage outrageous thoughts to open the door to big-picture thinkers. Encourage fact- and data-driven questions from analytical thinkers. Encourage logical and linear approaches to ensure structural thinkers are comfortable. Encourage intuition and empathy to open the door for your social thinkers.
- Highlight that communication doesn't just happen in one way. Foster both open dialogue and one-on-one sidebars. Different formats allow the full spectrum of expressiveness to be honored. Not everyone's an outgoing brainstormer, but you might get an email full of brilliant suggestions.
- Choose people with a demonstrated passion toward the topic/issue. No matter what a person's defined role is, what drives him or her is passion. Passion for a topic is a particular kind of expertise. It brings an energy and excitement that otherwise wouldn't be there.
- Do not let previous failures deny an individual access to a team. If you have to, wipe the proverbial slate clean, because it will invoke a greater propensity to take risks and be bold.
- Be clear on the goals. The more diverse and communicative your team environment is, the more important it is to create definition. It won't box people in, but it will bring pinpoint focus.
- Create ownership and accountability. When an individual knows he will be responsible for a certain aspect of a project, he'll be that much more willing to take it and run with it.
- Demand authenticity within the team. There's a reason this one is last. It all comes down to being honest, open, and transparent. Communication without authenticity is simply verbal transactions. Your team needs to know they can say what they mean and know that it will be respected and heard.
Like any great recipe, when you've got ingredients that complement each other, they can take results to a new level.