After seeing the anonymously sent photos of frightened women packed in the bottom of a freighter, destined for sex slavery, an ex-diplomat hastily assembled our team. We were intensely dedicated to find out who was profiting from the human trafficking – and to expose them. Three countries wanted to find out and so did my newspaper. Ironically, conflict soon cropped up within our team, as we followed the money trail, and almost sabotaged our work. Yet the ways we ultimately got on sync and succeeded may hold lessons for any diverse team. Our group also included a former computer hacker, ex- counterintelligence officer and an international banker.
The problem was that no one acted right, like me. And we all felt that way. It wasn’t just our diverse talents but our different temperaments that got in the way. Amongst us we had introverts and extroverts, fast and slow thinkers, and pessimistic and optimistic mindsets. And we’d been recruited to this project so we began as strangers to each other. Yes we did find and expose the illicit network. While that was nine years ago, it remains a vivid memory to this day. Thriving in diverse teams is key to accomplishment and meaningful work in our increasingly complex yet connected world. Why not be a connective leader, the invaluable glue that holds such groups together? Here are some methods that helped us:
Make Your Differences Work For Each Other
1. Agree on Explicit Rules Of Engagement
To create a common ground on which we get more done with less friction we agreed upon a few simple rules including that we could change the rules as we went along. Since so much of what a team does is new together, it helps to have boundaries to ground a team, and thus leverage the comfort of those boundless times of co-creating or collective decision making. Here were some of our rules:
Slow and fast thinkers can be equally smart. Fast thinkers flourish in conversation and slow thinkers benefit from time for deliberate thinking then writing as Daniel Kahneman famously describes in Thinking, Fast and Slow. A smart team provides for both needs.
Further, introverts thrive with adequate alone time and deep relationships with a few friends, as Quiet author, Susan Cain explains. Extroverts prefer to be engaged with people more often, and enjoy having wider circle of friends. Thus introverts also need down time to think and make gain faster support from their close friends. Extroverts still get the face time they want to get things done and make be better able to tap the wisdom of crowds for insights because they have a wider group of contacts.
Optimists often tend to view situations through a rosy lens, minimizing or ignoring possible obstacles yet tending to be more tenacious in overcoming them. When a problem arises pessimists are more likely to see it as permanent (it will always be this bad), pervasive (everything, not just this problem, is bad) and personal (it affects me the most).
While they are inveterate doubters, they are also, according to some research more realistic in their view of a situation than optimists. Thus discussing both extremes of what might happen, when choosing a course of action, can lead to smarter, collective decision making. See the rest of the column over at Forbes.