It’s been clearly recognized that teams with members from diverse backgrounds and experiences are the most likely to succeed in innovative and creative areas. That being said, this diversity can add a layer of complexity given how important it is for teams to quickly establish a common ground from which to execute. In my close to a decade of working with teams in areas as diverse as banking, computers and biotechnology, I’ve discovered several constants when it comes to bringing teams together as quickly and effectively as possible.
1. Take them out of their comfort zones
One of the great levelers when it comes to teams made up of members not only from different organizational silos but also from different levels of seniority is to take everyone out of their comfort zones at the same time. When I explain to my teams that over the next hour, they’ll be writing (and singing!) a song, it’s safe to assume that without prior songwriting experience, everyone from the CEO to an administrative assistant will be temporarily at sea. This discomfort, albeit intentionally brief, is designed to make sure that everyone understands that they’re all beginners and working from the same blank slate.
2. Give them an “impossible” project
For almost all of the organizations and teams with whom I work, songwriting is not only “uncomfortable” as I mentioned above but it can also feel practically impossible given the lack of my participants’ musical experience. What this does so beautifully is that it makes it abundantly clear that the team members will have to rely upon each other to get through the project. When I debrief with my workshop participants after the songwriting workshop and ask them what they were most scared of when they heard they’d be writing a song, one of the most common responses I get is that they were afraid they’d have to do it alone. Team members demonstrate a palpable relief when they’re told they’ll be working together. This sets the stage for a fruitful and evenly distributed collaboration.
3. Set a tight deadline
In my experience, one of the most destructive elements to team unity is perfectionism. If even one member is dead set on making things perfect, it can either discourage or silence the remaining team members. By setting a tight deadline to complete their “impossible” task, I don’t leave room for my teams to write a “perfect” song. This allows everyone to feel like they can participate without fear that their answers won’t be perfect as they’ve only got a few minutes to come up with a minimum viable product. I’ve found that this tends to unite the individual members of the team in a way that taking a full day (or even a few hours) would not allow.
Teams are fickle entities. When everything is running smoothly, the results can be significantly greater than the sum of the team’s individual parts. However, teams made up of diverse members have to find a way to gel before they can hope to succeed. Even the most well-intentioned team members will always need a way to find common ground with their peers. Hopefully, by applying the above tips, your team will achieve its full potential.
Find out more about Cliff’s innovation & creativity workshops for business teams and organizations.