Top teams work best — and fastest — when they are based on the right criteria and include a highly diverse group of people from all levels across an organization, including outside stakeholders, write David Komlos and David Benjamin in this opinion piece. They are co-authors of Cracking Complexity: The Breakthrough Formula for Solving Just About Anything Fast. Komlos is the CEO and Benjamin is the chief architect of Syntegrity.
Leaders have been hearing for years that diverse teams are key to tackling big problems, to innovating better, and to overall performance. In practice, few leaders know how to configure teams with the specific diversity of talent required to resolve their top challenges; they aren’t clear on what qualifies as diverse in terms of “who” and “how many,” nor how to construct these teams. This is essential to mastering complexity. Let us explain.
Imagine walking into your office one morning and finding a ferocious lion on your desk. If you are like most people, in the blink of an eye you slam the door and run away as fast as you can. Deconstruct that blink of an eye — in less than a second you saw the lion, absorbed the implications, thought about your options, decided what to do, and implemented seamlessly. No confusion, no mixed messages, no consensus-building — just a very smooth path from sensing the lion to fleeing.
Organizations, business units, teams, joint ventures don’t work nearly as fast. Their challenges, like growing faster, taking out cost, merging, digitizing and transforming aren’t solved by any one individual, nor are the solutions executed by any one individual. It takes many people to sense, absorb, think, decide and then act in a unified way.
W. Ross Ashby, president of the Society for General Systems Research from 1962–1964, understood this. His Law of Requisite Variety states “Only variety can destroy variety,” which means that leaders who are faced with a multidimensional challenge must be as multidimensional as the challenge. That’s only possible by tapping into a much broader and deeper variety of people — beyond the usual suspects — who have the combined knowledge, experience and expertise to match the complexity, and whose buy-in is essential for execution. Short-changing requisite variety guarantees partial outcomes; starting with a partial understanding, followed by partial solutions, followed by weak execution.
The following framework enables rigorous examination of variety when constructing teams:
Twelve zones from which to choose people based on their role, perspective, knowledge and expertise;
Cross-checked against 13 Characteristics that span human dimensions like basic demographics, thinking style, personality, attitude and influence.
Different challenges require different zone and characteristic combinations.
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