The Life Raft Test: The Importance of Diverse Work Styles



When you have the opportunity to add a new member to your team, there are lots of ways to go about making your selection. Beyond screening for the proper experience and skills, many selection methods involve some element of testing for fit. Is their working style the right one for the role? Is their personality a fit for the culture? Or, employing the infamous airport test, would you enjoy yourself if you were stuck in an airport together? 

Selecting team members this way can create teams who work together smoothly, because those who feel like they fit are often a lot alike in how they prefer to work. A highly creative person might be inspired by being around others who value creativity. A detail-oriented person may feel relieved to be around others who get the importance of the little things. 

But these feel good scenarios can lead to some undesirable outcomes. Those who are a lot alike often share the same strengths, and the same weaknesses too. Too many creatives together can waste a lot of time and money chasing one impractical idea after another and then abandoning each before they come to fruition. Likewise, too many detailed people can get trapped in a state of analysis paralysis, make very little progress, and end up choking on the dust of their competitors. 

Ideally, your team should have more diversity. A team of creative, big-picture thinkers could probably benefit from a teammate with a penchant for thinking through the specifics of implementation. And that detail-obsessed team could probably use some encouragement to make their way out of the weeds. 

Next time you’re selecting a new team member, imagine you’re not stuck in the airport, because your flight is leaving right on time with your whole team on board. But the plane makes a crash landing at sea and you’re now floating in a life raft with no hope of immediate rescue. Would you want everyone on that raft to have the same strengths and weaknesses? Probably not. Suppose you’re all great at building things out of random items, but you’re also terrible navigators. Perhaps you’d wish for a teammate who’s different, maybe with great navigational skills, even if they couldn’t build things. 

But adding a teammate or two who’s different won’t always get the effect you’re hoping for, because teams often favor the majority type’s perspective and way of working, overshadowing those of minority types. So instead of expecting your new team member to do things the way you do them, maybe you’d go above and beyond to support that person in doing what they do best. That could be the deciding factor in whether your team survives the life-raft ordeal.

To potentially improve your team’s effectiveness, take a quick inventory of the perspectives, working styles, strengths, and weaknesses of your current members. And then review how your team's ways of working may support the preferences and needs of some types more than others. Because your goal should not be just the presence of diversity, but the activation of it, by creating an environment where all types can thrive. 

Originally published on HRPS blog.



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