“If your team isn’t cognitively diverse, you’re missing a huge opportunity.”¬†Geil Browning, Emergenetics

Have you ever wondered why a team of smart, experienced people aren’t performing well? It’s not owing to a lack of skills. More likely there’s a breakdown in something deeper that precludes the group’s 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 is it 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 in four distinct areas–conceptual, social, analytical, and structural. We also know that every person’s behavior falls somewhere along a spectrum in each of 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, or 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 to the end. Or be great at planning and follow-through but short on ideas.

Another group may have the potential to embrace diverse speaking but not 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.