Posted: 02 Dec. 2020 5 min. read

To expand horizons, enlist a motley crew

(This is the sixth post in the Breakthrough Manifesto series, an exploration of Business Chemistry and how to tackle solving really tough problems. If you missed the introduction, read it here.)

“One light bulb, even the one over Edison’s head, is not as bright or as interesting as a string of multicolored lights.” – Scott E. Page

The sixth principle of the Deloitte Greenhouse Breakthrough Manifesto is to enlist a motley crew. In other words, go beyond the usual suspects and seek varied perspectives on a problem, from beyond your own team, or even your own discipline.

As a Gen Xer, the phrase "motley crew'" immediately brings to mind the heavy metal band of that name (although they spell it differently). From there, I veer toward the iconic movie The Breakfast Club and the "closing-scene" voiceover of that motley crew's collective essay: "We are all a brain, an athlete, a basket case, a princess, and a criminal." Neither of these is exactly what we in the Deloitte Greenhouse mean by a motley crew (although either can take you on a nice trip down memory lane). Our meaning is more along the lines of what Frans Johansson wrote about in his book The Medici Effect. Johansson argues that "the most powerful innovation happens at the 'intersection,' where ideas and concepts from diverse industries, cultures, and disciplines collide." In this sense, a truly motley crew is about diversity, but perhaps an even more profound level of diversity than we often have in mind when we use the word.

You might think about it this way: A group with any diversity at all could be seen as a motley crew, but there are levels of diversity and levels of motley. Let's say you've got a really tough problem to solve, so you gather the top brass in your department—those with the most experience—but you notice they're almost all women. So maybe you pull in some of the most experienced men, and you give yourself a little pat on the back because you've increased the diversity of your group and also its level of motley. But then maybe you remember the first principle of the Breakthrough Manifesto—strip away everythingand you wonder how good this group will be at embracing a beginner's mindset. You consider that it might be a good thing to add a few people who haven't been working on this particular problem quite so long, and you add a few junior team members. 

You've now got even more diversity and an even higher level of motley. Even so, you start to think about the fact that everyone works in the same department and, in some sense, might have similar ways of approaching problems. You wonder, could you bring someone in from a different department, or from a totally different industry or discipline, maybe? They truly would have a beginner's mindset in relation to this particular problem. And then it occurs to you that it might be helpful to have more than one outside perspective, so you invite a few more people from other disciplines. When you pair these new folks with the experts you've already got, you really are starting to have a motley crew that's likely to be more creative in its problem-solving.

Why should that be the case? Well, one way in which including people with a variety of perspectives can increase the creativity of your problem-solving is by expanding the ideas that are brought to the table. People with diverse ways of thinking may look at the problem itself differently, as well as the possible ways of solving it. They are likely to make different connections, which can increase the possibility of you reaching a breakthrough.

Another way in which adding different perspectives can make a group more creative is by encouraging critical thinking. When people start with basically the same perspective, the group is more susceptible to confirmation bias, which can lead them to pay attention to information that confirms their shared point of view, while ignoring, or sometimes not even noticing, information that challenges it. When a different perspective is offered, the group is more likely to examine the issue from multiple sides and pay attention to more sources of information. And psychologist Charlan Nemeth has found that the dissenting opinion doesn't even need to be right to have a positive effect. The benefit comes because dissent broadens our thinking and stimulates originality, while consensus keeps thinking narrow.

Moreover, including someone with a different perspective can make other people feel more comfortable voicing their own dissenting opinions. Psychologist Solomon Asch’s classic experiments demonstrated that people often conform to the majority opinion even when it's clearly wrong, but just one person going against the grain can greatly increase the likelihood that others will also offer divergent perspectives.

And yet, none of this means you should, or even could, count on one lone individual to bring a diverse way of thinking to your team. I've written before about how teams dominated by one or two perspectives can be susceptible to the effects of cascades and hidden profiles, two phenomena that sometimes lead to the majority voices in a group drowning out the minorities. In addition, research has repeatedly suggested that token individuals are often not heard and that three represents a magic number of sorts when it comes to the likelihood that a minority perspective will gain a group's attention. So someone with an opinion that differs from the majority may be more willing to share it if there is at least one other person who disagrees with the group, but they still won't likely be heard unless they're echoed by yet a third voice.

To understand just how motley your crew is, consider how ecological diversity is measured. Simpson’s diversity index is one example that takes into account both the number of species in a given ecosystem and the balance of species. By this measure, having some outside perspectives in a group makes it more diverse than having only insiders, but if the insiders overwhelm the outsiders, the group's diversity index will be lower than if it's more equally distributed. And that could mean your team is less likely to achieve breakthrough results.

Perhaps more than any of the other Breakthrough Manifesto principles, when you're looking to enlist a motley crew, it's immediately apparent how a Business Chemistry lens can be powerful. If your team has all four types present and is well balanced across Pioneers, Guardians, Drivers, and Integrators, it will, by definition, have a diversity of perspectives. As a result, it will have good potential to be simultaneously highly imaginative and especially rigorous, with strong momentum and excellent collaboration, which sounds to me like a promising recipe for creative problem-solving. I'm not suggesting that Business Chemistry is the only lens you should use when considering whether your team has a good diversity of thought, just that it’s a great start for imagining what it can look like when you bring a motley crew together. Ideally, you'd consider Business Chemistry along with other frames for diversity.

But what if you don't have the luxury of enlisting a motley crew and you're stuck with the team you've got, which maybe doesn't seem very diverse? All is not lost! Most teams have some diversity of thought lurking in their depths; it's just a matter of surfacing it and then managing it to get the most benefit. We've shared strategies for doing so before, so here we'll focus on just a few of them (and you can check out our articles in HBR and in HR Executive, or our book for more expanded discussions).

If there is a particular perspective you feel is lightly represented or missing from your team, you can ask others to think that way. For example, if your team doesn't have many Guardians, you might want to pause and ask everyone to think like a Guardian in order to help improve your chances of catching important details, hidden risks, and downstream implications. Or, you might identify a variety of companies you admire and ask your team, "How do you think (fill in the blank) technology company would address this? How about (fill in the blank) hospitality company? Or (fill in the blank) manufacturing company?" This exercise is an easy way to get your team to start thinking like a motley crew, even if they don't reflect one on the surface.

Finally, it's important to consider how your team interacts and whether your working norms encourage sharing of diverse perspectives. How do you encourage respectful disagreement or debate? How might your ways of working elevate some perspectives and squash others? For example, if you need more big ideas in the mix, but your meetings have a rigid structure, you might not get what you're looking for. Or if you want to develop strong relationships and trust among team members, but you set them up to compete again each other, you may be on the wrong path. So look to align your working norms with what you hope to get out of a team, or better yet, balance them to enable a diversity of perspectives to arise.

Actions in summary for encouraging your team to enlist a motley crew:

  • Consider multiple frames of diversity—Business Chemistry, demographic characteristics, experience, industry, discipline, etc.
  • Pay attention to balance—watch out for majority factions that dominate a group's minorities
  • Amp up diversity on any team by encouraging "thinking like" another perspective
  • Examine working norms and create an environment that actively encourages the sharing of diverse, and even conflicting, opinions

To explore how finding your limits can help solve problems, read my next post, which focuses on the seventh Breakthrough Manifesto principle, check your edge.

And if you simply can't wait to learn more about our Breakthrough Manifesto or how the Deloitte Greenhouse Experience might help your team attain breakthrough results, explore and get in touch here.

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Suzanne Vickberg (aka Dr. Suz)

Suzanne Vickberg (aka Dr. Suz)

Research Lead | Deloitte LLP

Dr. Suz is a social-personality psychologist and a leading practitioner of Deloitte’s Business Chemistry, which she uses to guide clients as they explore how their work is shaped by the mix of individuals who make up a team. Previously serving in Deloitte’s Talent organization, since 2014 she’s been coaching leaders and teams in creating cultures that enable each member to thrive and make their best contribution. Along with her Deloitte Greenhouse colleague Kim Christfort, Suzanne co-authored the book Business Chemistry: Practical Magic for Crafting Powerful Work Relationships as well as a Harvard Business Review cover feature on the same topic. She also leads the Deloitte Greenhouse research program focused on Business Chemistry and is the primary author of the Business Chemistry blog. An “unapologetic introvert” and Business Chemistry Guardian-Dreamer, you will never-the-less often find her in front of a room, a camera, or a podcast microphone speaking about Business Chemistry. Suzanne is a University of Wisconsin-Madison graduate with an MBA from New York University’s Stern School of Business and a doctorate in Social-Personality Psychology from the Graduate Center at the City University of New York. She has lectured at Rutgers Business School and several colleges in the CUNY system, and before joining Deloitte in 2009, she gained experience in the health care and consulting fields. A mom of two teenagers, she maintains her native Minnesota roots and currently resides in New Jersey, where she volunteers for several local organizations with a focus on hunger relief.