You likely have reached a point at some time in your career when your team couldn’t agree on a solution, you reported to someone whose feedback felt outright harsh, or you didn’t feel heard by your co-workers. We likely all have, and may have thought, if they did everything like me, this wouldn’t be a problem. There would be no conflict in the office, decisions would be made faster, and we’d all arrive at the same solutions without outlandish ideas throwing us off track. Wouldn’t it be so much easier if we all just thought exactly the same?
Actually…no. It wouldn’t. It would probably make things a lot harder. And a lot less exciting. The truth is, it would create the product or solution that works for people like you… and not for the other 99% of the world.
In these times, we see the situation all wrong, and as a “problem”, when it’s really an opportunity to leverage individual characteristics and unique traits to do something really great. All of the differences in how we think and communicate, how we’re motivated and lead, how we’re energized and triggered, and so many more, all make up cognitive diversity.
What is cognitive diversity?
This is not diversity based on age, gender, ethnicity, etc. It is the type of diversity that you can’t see. According to Harvard Business Review, “Cognitive diversity has been defined as differences in perspective or information processing styles.” Basically, everyone is different- the way we communicate, lead, process, what we are motivated and energized by, and so on. There is nothing wrong with these differences, they are what makes each of us so unique and valuable, and recognizing that is key to any team.
Why is it important?
Challenging and confusing as it can be, we need teammates to see things differently than we do. We need that person who slows us down to consider possible issues and that person who speeds us up to get something completed. We need the person who draws out ideas, and the person who tells us it’s time to stop talking and make a decision. The person who prioritizes relationships and the person who prioritizes hitting the numbers.
Recognizing and fostering an environment of understanding cognitive diversity is so important in the workplace because it gives you insight into how and why your people work the way they do. Knowing how your people prefer to work and applying this can improve your company culture, and lead to happier employees. Cognitive diversity allows for a variety of thinking, energy, motivation, and leadership styles that will lead to a dynamic, effective, and creative team.
How can you become more successful? Seek diversity and you will find more revenue, higher profitability, more innovation, more trust, and more engagement. Why? Well, according to this Harvard study, it’s actually strongly tied to things beneath the surface that we cannot see — cognitive diversity — the different ways of problem-solving, decision-making, working, and communicating. It is cognitively diverse teams that are the best at solving complex problems in the face of uncertainty.
At the end of the day, it’s these different perspectives that create the work we’re most proud of.
According to Gallup, “Only about one in three U.S. workers and 15% globally are engaged,” only one-third. Imagine that statistic representing your organization, maybe it does, kinda scary right? But let’s change that. It could be down to what kind of work your employee is doing when it might not be what they really prefer to do.
Take a look at the insight on the right. If Devon is feeling suffocated in her current tasks, it might be because she was given a project that does not allow her to try creative ideas, or she’s on a team that has a bureaucratic environment. But, Devon does not prefer either of these things, causing her to dread her work. Learning how your employees prefer to work might be the difference between them loving and hating what they do. And ultimately when your people love their work, they will likely be a lot more engaged.
We are likely a lot more productive when doing work that leans into our strengths. And, this work will likely be more enjoyable because we are good at it. Take a look at the top strengths of the Cloverleaf team. The team members in Executing will likely work best in checking tasks off a list and getting things done and may feel energized by completing projects. Someone in Influencing might prefer to spend their time telling customers about their product and describing why it would be good for them. A relationship-building team member might be in tune with, well- exactly that! They foster connections in the office and welcoming on new staff, but this does not mean that they don’t like strategic thinking like someone in the top right. They just might be stronger and prefer to spend more time building relationships than analyzing or checking off to-dos.
With cognitive diversity, you will get a wide variety of strengths and viewpoints that will be beneficial and allow for balance and effectiveness. When your people work in areas that allow them to really exercise their strengths, they will likely feel more productive and be more valuable to the team.With cognitive diversity, you will get a wide variety of strengths and abilities that will be beneficial and allow for balance and effectiveness. When your people work in areas that allow them to really exercise their strengths, they will likely feel more productive and be more valuable to the team.
The more diverse your team is in thought, the more perspectives there will likely be, along with solutions to a problem. Harvard Business Review noted,
“There is a familiar saying: “We recruit in our own image…Colleagues gravitate toward the people who think and express themselves in a similar way…organizations often end up with like-minded teams…what psychologists call functional bias — and low cognitive diversity. Functional bias is a problem for teams facing new uncertain and complex situations because, with little cognitive diversity, the team will have limited ability to see things differently, engage in different ways…or create new options.”
Without different trains of thought analyzing a problem, a team might miss something huge that would have been seen if there was someone there with another perspective. Take a look at the Cloverleaf DISC circle. Imagine if the team was only made up of everyone in the Dominance quadrant. If the team was trying to solve a problem, there would probably be a lot of people with more “dominant” behaviors talking over each other and showing why their idea would work and is the solution. But if the team was comprised of those that fall in the Steadiness quadrant, they might not even speak up in fear of stepping on someone else’s toes, and a decision might not be made quickly enough.
None of these quadrants are right or wrong, but it is important to have a team pulling from each of these quadrants to have balanced effectiveness. Perhaps someone from the Steadiness quadrant organizes the meeting to prioritize diversity of thought, and then someone from Conscientiousness can write up the plans. A team member from Dominance will focus on accomplishing goals for whatever solution is reached, and a team member from Influence might talk to a customer about why this solution could help them.
So who thinks differently than you on your team? Let’s take a look! Here’s how:
- Head to your TEAM dashboard
- Look for someone in a different assessment section than you
- Click on their avatar to get insight into how they do their best work
- Take a screenshot of the first insight you see that’s different than you and strikes you as “spot on” that person
- Send them the screenshot, and say thanks for the perspective they bring to the team
It is so vital to have a diverse set of members on a team. If you have 10 of the same person, that will likely lead to a lot of conflict later on, whether it’s disengagement, dry ideas, or poor communication. Cognitive diversity, while not seen, cannot be ignored for a high-performing team.
Are you intrigued on how you can make this happen? Start here.