According to a review of board performances by the Wharton School, differences in thinking among leaders is a key indicator of increased diversity and, as a result, performance.
While many people tend to think of demographics, gender, race and ethnicity when the word diversity is mentioned, these aren't the only predictors of diverse thinking.
If we don't get beyond the stereotypes of what diverse thinking is, who diverse thinkers are and how best to encourage them to have different views and perspectives, we will never affect tangible change.
Introducing diversity of thought
As the name implies, different people think in different ways. Diversity of thought isn't just about background, experiences and opinions, although all of those factors tend to play a part. Fundamentally, it's about the differences people have in how they prefer to think.
An easy way to understand this is through the Herrmann Whole Brain® Model, a four-quadrant metaphorical model of the brain. The model shows how thinking falls into four preference clusters that we all have access to. It's like your thinking system, comprised of four different thinking "selves."
When we talk about diversity of thought, we're talking about this diversity of thinking preferences.
You have a team of these four thinking selves available to you, but it you're like most of us, you probably prefer some of them over others. Like a sports team, you have your go-to players that you send out the majority of the time, while others sit on the bench.
When we talk about diversity of thought, we're talking about this diversity of thinking preferences. Each of the four preferences – analytical, organised, interpersonal and strategic – contribute value to the business. You can't run an organisation and remain successful over the long term without all of this thinking in play and, often, in very specific ways. From our database of more than two million thinkers, we can even identify patterns of thinking that are common in particular occupations.
And while this isn't exclusive to gender, female leaders do tend to represent a wider range of thinking preferences.
"Our research shows that women leaders have on average greater breadth of thinking preferences, which by design is an advantage," explains Herrmann CEO Ann Herrmann-Nehdi.
"Today's increasingly complex environment requires Whole Brain® thinking leaders to be effective and having more women leaders provides organisations with a competitive advantage."
Why does diversity of thought contribute to business performance?
At work, we need diversity of thought and ideas to solve tough problems and make smart decisions. Leaning in to diversity of thought comes with surprising rewards.
You get new ideas. You get to relax and ask questions instead of trying to control the conversation. You get to step inside the mind and heart of other people and see the world through their eyes. You get to move beyond "either-or" to "and" – the place where you discover unexpected connections between ideas. Most of all, you get to learn and enjoy better relationships.
The diversity of thought within organisations is one of the best resources available for thriving in the modern business world. This has been proven through our work with thousands of businesses around the globe facing critical business challenges.
"One thing that comes through from a large number of the contributors is how 'diversity' is about contributing different ways of thinking; getting beyond traditional mindsets and thinking about how the future will be different from the past," explains Philip Chronican, Director of the BNZ and National Australia Bank Boards in the 2018 Diverse Thinking Capability Audit of New Zealand Boardrooms.
"Diversity of background, mindset and life experience is what is needed for organisations to benefit from new ways of thinking. Importantly though, there needs to be an openness to different views to fully leverage this benefit."
Teams that are balanced in terms of thinking preferences are more effective; they consider more options and make better decisions. Research by Herrmann also found that when faced with a complex challenge, whole-brained teams were 66 per cent more efficient than homogeneous teams.
Teams that are balanced in terms of thinking preferences are more effective
How can you ensure you embrace a spectrum of thinkers?
So, difference in a group can lead to better problem solving and decision making as well as more innovative ideas – but it's not just as simple as putting diverse people on a team and seeing what comes out of it.
From a thinking preference standpoint, we know that when a team has representation from across the thinking spectrum, each person will approach problems quite differently. This is a huge benefit to the staff, but only if they recognise each others' preferences and how they each add value.
Honouring different thinking approaches will allow every member to share their thinking and ideas openly. Once that openness occurs, the team's creativity begins to flourish. This because they become motivated to take advantage of the different thinking styles rather than viewing them as obstacles. And as a foundation for a discussion about diversity, thinking gives people a non-judgmental starting point. It's not about behaviours, personalities or other attributes; this is just how someone prefers to process information.
If the process isn't managed properly, the team can devolve into unproductive conflict, frustration and chaos.
Particularly in the case of highly diverse groups, an effective leader or facilitator is essential. The most successful team leaders value the differences on the team and encourage people to bring their best thinking to work. This helps to both bridge the diversity of thought in the group and keep the Whole Brain® in mind so all perspectives are heard.
The below video, shows just a few ways to create better outcomes with Whole Brain® thinking.
Here are a few further things we've learned about setting up a diverse team for success:
- The more mentally diverse a group is, the more they need a multi-dominant facilitator/leader. Agile team leaders are critical for managing and leveraging difference on the team.
- Heterogeneous groups can be extremely creative and successful OR they can "crash" because they haven't taken the steps and time necessary to find synergy.
- Stereotyping of others is a major impediment to team development (he's a "this" or she's a "that").
- Because cultural differences can make working as a team even more challenging, process time and consistent communication are even more important.
- Virtual teams need a common language even more than co-located teams to increase the speed of relationship building and decrease miscommunication
Using the Whole Brain® Model as a framework to guide a team's actions can reshape the entire meeting or task for the better. At the beginning of a project, or periodically throughout the team's engagement, ask questions from each quadrant, such as:
- BLUE: Do we have clear performance goals, objectives and measurements?
- GREEN: Do we have clear priorities, a plan and a timeline?
- RED: Do we have an understanding of our "customer" and each other?
- YELLOW: Are we taking appropriate risks to challenge ourselves and come up with new ideas?
Remember: Successful teams practice "creative contention." Getting great results from a team isn't just about everyone getting along or coming to quick agreement.
In fact, when the problems are complex, or we need to push the boundaries for innovation, creative abrasion can make all the difference.
Keen to learn more? Download our Diversity of Thought Whitepaper below!