Innovation Thrives on Diversity and Teaming - Psychological Safety is Key

Diversity is the art of thinking independently, together

                                                                                    ~Malcom Forbes

The single most important consideration when building a high-performing team, beyond requisite knowledge and skills, is behaviors. Not only those of the team members, but of managers and executives engaging with the team, as well. This is even more true today than it was 10 - 15 years ago. Why? - let me explain by way of an IT example…

In the past, IT teams were generally stable units of productivity. Members knew each other well from working together over long periods of time on largely the same types of work. Projects were technology oriented and team members were predominately from IT departments. Stable teams of people, accustomed to working with and around each other’s quirks, likes, and dislikes was the norm. Fast forward to today and the ubiquity of SaaS and mobile apps, machine learning, robotics, digital transformations, and blockchain. To realize benefits from these changes, organizations need to be more agile, assembling teams on the fly, often using talent from different disciplines, geographies, industries, and cultures to solve complex problems. When these teams assemble, good social dynamics are the grease that allows interdependence, learning, and creativity to flow. Good social dynamics are based on openness and empathic inclusion. In other words, team members must share Abraham Lincoln’s insight…

“I Do Not Like That Man.  I Must Get to Know Him Better”.

When people get to know one another, they become aware of and sensitive to each other’s reasoning, relating, and acting patterns. They begin to identify with each other and become less prone to feeling criticize or marginalize for speaking up with ideas, questions, concerns, or mistakes. When psychological safety grows, so does the potential for ideas to flow and grow. This natural human process is vitally important on projects that have high levels of uncertainty and require experimentation and learning to ensure success.

This applies not only to immediate team members, but managers and executives as well. Often under phenomenal pressure to deliver stellar results, executives and managers easily fall prey to stress that they transfer to the team’s environment. A command and control style when a team requires space and patience to innovate and experiment will limit creativity and the opportunity for an optimal solution. It can mean the difference between sending a mediocre product to market or creating something that become a market leader for the organization.

Lest you think the latter is an exaggeration, consider the strong positive correlation between indices of innovation (and/or M&A) and turnover in the S&P 500, as recently observed by Credit Suisse (reference). Remember, what happens between people matters. Organizations don’t have ideas, people do.