"...if all ten of you agree on everything, then nine of you are probably unnecessary."
Hunter, J. C. (2012). The servant: A simple story about the true essence of leadership. Currency, an imprint of Crown Publishing Group.
You know I love a lesson that is slightly controversial, simple at first glance, yet packs a pretty good punch. Well, James Hunter delivers a good one in his 2012 book, The Servant. The Servant is an easy-to-read leadership fable that follows the journey of John Daily, a businessman seeking guidance on effective leadership. Through an unexpected week-long retreat at a monastery, John encounters the wise and humble Brother Simeon, who imparts essential lessons on servant leadership. The book weaves together timeless principles of leadership, emphasizing the power of selflessness, empathy, and active listening.
At a critical juncture in the story, a profound remark emerges during a conversation: "In your staff meetings, if all ten of you agree on everything, then nine of you are probably unnecessary." This seemingly simple statement sets the stage for exploring the importance of embracing diverse perspectives and constructive disagreements within teams and organizations.
But stop and think for a second. If week in and week out you are sitting at a table with like-minded people who think the same thoughts as you and say the same things you are saying... why are they there? Are YOU necessary? Are THEY necessary? You can just consult your brain. You essentially are wasting time and money. The quote subtly suggests we surround ourselves with people who think differently than us and say things that our brains have not thought of. So let's explore deeper and think about how this quote can push us to change. In a world that constantly evolves and presents complex challenges, the adage "two heads are better than one" rings true. Embracing diverse perspectives and encouraging constructive disagreements is not just an exercise in politeness; it is a strategic move to unlock the full potential of a team or organization.
THE CHEESE (Added Depth)
In their 2017 Harvard Business Review article, "Teams Solve Problems Faster When They're More Cognitively Diverse," Alison Reynolds and David Lewis uncover the real impact of diversity on team performance. They explore cognitive diversity, focusing on differences in thought processes and perspectives among team members, rather than traditional factors like age, ethnicity, and gender.
Their 12-year study involving professionals from diverse backgrounds - senior executives, MBA students, general managers, scientists, teachers, and teenagers - revealed that cognitive diversity, not external characteristics, played a pivotal role in team success. Teams with varied thinking styles and problem-solving methods excelled in tackling complex problems and generating innovative solutions. The study looked at high cognitive diversity and high performance as two key indicators. It questioned how individuals approach tasks or challenges, applying what they know and seeking new and useful information.
To gain insight into these differences, the CliftonStrengths assessment can be used, revealing four domains of motivation: execution, strategy, influencing, and relationship. Each team member typically leads more naturally in one of these domains. For instance, someone leading with execution prioritizes task completion, while another leading with relationships considers the impact on people.
Neglecting any of these domains can be detrimental. Thus, organizations must ask:
(1) Do you know which domain you lead with?
(2) If you hired nine individuals who think like you, which other domains would lack representation?
(3) Could your team withstand this absence of cognitive diversity?
In this scope of cognitive diversity, innovation can flourish, and complex problems can find ingenious solutions. The team's capacity has the ability to expand and find solutions that a homogenous group might overlook.
THE OLIVES (A Surprising Element)
In the movie "World War Z," the "10th man" is a character who serves as a debater, challenging the consensus opinion even when it goes against the beliefs or information of the group. The "10th man" takes the responsibility of considering alternative scenarios or potential threats seriously, regardless of how unlikely or unpopular they may seem. This concept finds its roots in a real-world strategy employed by the Israeli intelligence agency Mossad. When nine intelligence analysts reach a unanimous conclusion about a potential threat, the "10th man" is assigned to act as a devil's advocate and consider alternative possibilities, even if they appear far-fetched. The goal is to prevent complacency and ensure a thorough examination of all potential angles.
One of the highest functioning teams I ever worked on operated with well-defined group norms, such as "face-down phones" and "Equity of airtime," to ensure focused and equitable participation in our meetings. However, the most impactful norm was the appointment of a "10th man" during each meeting. Now, we weren't being chased by zombies or fighting terrorists in our school settings, but just like the Israeli intelligence agency sought alternative perspectives to ensure all potential threats were thoroughly examined, our team embraced the "10th man" concept to explore uncharted territories of thought. By doing so, we created a space where psychological safety thrived - a space where every idea was valued, and no voice was stifled.
Our team's norm of employing the "10th man" echoes the essence of the main quote, "... if all ten of you agree on everything, then nine of you are probably unnecessary." The concept of the "10th man" reinforced the importance of cultivating diverse perspectives for the sake of safety - both physical and psychological. In embracing our personal cognitive diversity, we fortified our team against the dangers of stagnation and groupthink. By encouraging each unique idea and appreciating the spirit of healthy dissonance, we pushed the boundaries of each individual idea, leaving our team, our organization, and the students we served in a better place than when we started.
So, I invite you to embrace the "10th man" within yourself and within your teams. Challenge the status quo, explore the uncharted territories of innovative thinking, and champion cognitive diversity as a stimulant for enhancing safety and unlocking the true potential of your team. And please... hire people that are not you.