After conducting hundreds of executive assessments, I’ve noticed a theme.  Leaders love to say that they want to hire a diverse team to promote different perspectives, open discourse, and even dissenting points of view.  But, they often contradict themselves, instead seeking out people who are just like themselves.  Here is an example pattern that I often see:

Me: What is your leadership brand?

Leader: “I am helpful, collaborative, and analytical”

Me, a few minutes later: What do you look for when evaluating talent?

Leader: “People who are helpful, collaborative, and analytical”

Often without realizing it, people are innately drawn to people who are like them.  This similar-to-me bias is a normal human phenomenon, and it is something that can serve us well in our personal lives.  Relationships are often building on the foundation of similarity–similar interests, styles, and hobbies.  “Birds of a feather flock together” holds up more than “opposites attract.”  Opposites, after all, can cause a very real tension at times.

They can also cause a team to derail.

Back when I was younger, I used to play the original Final Fantasy (1989), a role playing game (RPG) where you have to band together with a group to save the world, etc.  You had a choice of character classes when you launched: Fighter, Thief, Martial Artist, White Mage, Black Mage, or Red Mage.  I loved to experiment with party composition, and found out that it was the diversity that mattered.  A balanced party–for me, the Fighter, Thief, White Mage, and Black Mage–tended to result in the best outcome, and the most ease of tackling diverse challenges.  My efforts to try homogeneous parties typically ended in frustration or failure.  A group of four Fighters would hit a wall when an enemy was strong against physical damage.  A party of all Black Mages would need ample leveling–way too time consuming–to handle the simplest challenge.

Yet often, we do not pay enough attention to that when we are building a real-life team.  Analytical leaders accidentally seek out analytical employees because of the discomfort involved working with a intuitive person.  Collaborative leaders seek out those who will do the same, which might be easy, but may not pressure-test the team.  A team full of similar-styled players will eventually get to a complex problem and stumble, and will be unlikely to push for innovation.  Homogeneous teams are great at solving the same types of problems quickly (e.g,. Fighters bashing away at ogres); but they can stall out when the situation is different (e.g., attempting to slice up a flan, a gel-based monster that folds around physical weapons).

Homogeneous teams are also more likely to fall into decision-making pitfalls.  Just as a party of all mages will attempt to solve all problems with magic, so might a team of analyticals seek to solve their problems with data.  They know one approach best, and therefore few will offer alternatives.  Consensus tends to be easier, presenting less strain on the individual members.

Next time you are evaluating talent, pretend you are forming a party for an RPG. Maybe it’s a Final Fantasy, a Dragon Quest, or a D&D party. Who is your mage (thoughtful and analytical)?  Who is your fighter (decisive driver)?  What have you noticed is missing from your current team, and how could a new ‘class’ promote growth and pressure?  RPGs, like real life, have a keen focus on strong team dynamics, and you have to be conscious of balance and diversity when you are making these decisions. Selecting your party is one of the most exciting parts of an RPG, and it should be one of the best

This topic is fun for me, so I’ll continue exploring how we can use RPGs to learn about teams! Subscribe below to get updates on the next blog in the series, where I will explore how RPG classes line up to Belbin’s Team Roles.

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