Some thoughts on teams

This might seem odd for someone who works predominantly on his own, but I’ve been giving some thought recently to what makes a good team. Specifically, I’ve been wondering whether we perhaps tend to establish teams of people who all have similar backgrounds, when in fact we should strive for more diversity of skills, experience and mindset. And on the whole, I’m with diversity. Even if it makes it more difficult for teams to work… erm, well… as a team.

I guess the problem starts with the fact that many organisations are not the most diverse of places. Whether they are management consultancies, engineering practices or higher education institutions, organisations tend to attract people with similar goals, approaches to life and educational and employment backgrounds. This is exacerbated by the tendency of senior managers (in my experience, at least) to hire and promote in their own image. So such organisations become even less diverse over time.

And when we want to put together a team to work on a particular project or to explore a specific problem, we can only work with what we have available. So if I were in a consultancy practice (which I am, but without any colleagues with whom to form a team), I’d have the choice of a number of experienced management consultants, each with a good degree from a good university and similar professional qualifications. And there’s every chance that they’d do a good job. But it’s unlikely (if we’re being honest) that they’d do a great job. Sure, they’d probably impress you. But would they absolutely blow your mind with their brilliance? Possibly not.

But what if we took a different approach? What if, instead of picking five management consultants for our team, we chose, say, one management consultant (to facilitate the process), one physicist, one therapist, one artist and one teacher? And then let them get on with it. What would happen then? Very possibly, it might be a disaster. But wouldn’t it be nice to think that our team could use their diverse skills, knowledge and experience to generate genuinely new ideas and insights? Wouldn’t it be great if they could come up with a brilliant way of doing things that nobody had thought of before?

This might be one of those things that sounds great in theory but fails miserably when put into practice. At the very least, there might be a bit of what we consultants refer to politely as ‘creative disruption’ (although I’d argue that this is a good thing). And, sadly, not all organisations have a physicist, a therapist, an artist and a teacher on stand-by. But I think it’s high time we tried things a little differently when it comes to teams. And I’m pretty sure that, if we look hard enough, we can find some diversity in all organisations. And you never know. We might just be able to create something new, something innovative, something truly knock-your-socks-off brilliant.

These are just my thoughts and I have no evidence whatsoever for any of this. So if you’ve actually tried this sort of thing in practice, or if you’ve found ways to create better teams, do please get in touch. I’d love to hear from you. And in the spirit of putting my money where my mouth is, if you’re a scientist or artist (or something else cool) who’d like to contribute to a consultancy project, then I suppose you’d better get in touch, too.

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