Teams with a higher degree of diversity of thought tend to present a slightly different set of challenges for management. For example, while communication troubles will generally hurt every team’s performance, it can be especially debilitating for cognitively diverse teams.
In the case of teams that are assembled with cognitive diversity in mind, it may be hard for team members to empathise with one another when interpersonal conflicts arise. Conversely, for teams who are still in the developing stages of cognitive diversity, it may create new tensions in the team once people start to express contrary opinions and alternate modes of thinking.
Doubtless, cognitive diversity is essential for better team performance and innovation. Hence, it’s crucial that leaders know how to address these challenges to ensure more effective collaboration in their cognitively diverse teams.
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Having fewer things in common can undoubtedly be a challenge for collaboration; people who think and see things differently also tend to work differently and may find it harder to get along.
It’s vital to ensure that cognitively diverse teams are united by the same team goals. Everyone needs to be clear on exactly how team successes are measured and how each person on the team is indispensable in achieving those targets.
To this end, leaders need to assert the importance of role complementarity. Knowing and understanding that each team member brings a different set of skills and expertise to the table is critical in encouraging the kind of interdependency that is necessary for effective teamwork.
Harnessing the power of cognitive diversity requires that you know exactly how to maximise the strengths of each team member. Instead of looking too much at how to make up for individual weaknesses, you need to emphasise strengths-building.
For example, a brainstorming session typically requires good ideation, followed by practical evaluation. Team members with more creative thinking styles thrive during the ideation stage, while those with analytical thinking styles perform better in the evaluation stage.
Additionally, assigning a devil’s advocate who is more adept at lateral thinking can boost creative problem-solving. It also encourages deeper understanding of alternative viewpoints, which is crucial in cognitively diverse teams.
In the process of managing differences, facilitating greater interpersonal understanding between team members is vital. People who are going to be working together a lot need to not just know of their personal differences; they also have to embrace them.
For instance, at Ultra, a software-testing company with a fully remote team, each team member has a personal “Biodex”: a short user manual for others on how to work with them.* In about 28 points, it condenses important information like which learning styles this person prefers as well as their preferred modes of communication.
Conflicts are inevitable, as with every team. Cognitively diverse teams, in particular, may initially be more susceptible to fallout since they tend to have less things in common.
Interestingly, though, studies have shown that task-related conflicts can have a positive impact on performance when teams are characterised by high degrees of openness and emotional stability.
Once people in cognitively diverse teams begin to express themselves fully, there are bound to be lots of task-related conflicts. Having a culture of open communication can go a long way in using this to the team’s advantage.
*As reported by Forbes.