How to Build a High-Performing, Diverse and Inclusive Super A-Team

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According to a recent study by the Institute for Corporate Productivity (i4cp), high-performing organizations place a higher premium on workforce diversity and inclusion than their lower-performing competitors. The study also revealed that in these better-performing organizations, the company places a higher value on the ability of leaders to work effectively with diverse stakeholders.

Leaders and hiring managers may scratch their heads, wondering what this means and how it correlates with other important hiring factors. It’s well understood that the best teams are composed of people who bring a variety of perspectives and cognitive approaches. That intuitively makes sense, but what about being qualified or being a good fit with the rest of the team? Aren’t those even more important?

These questions are often posed as if these factors were mutually exclusive. But they are three distinct elements of a team, which, if properly optimized, will yield the type of high-performing, super A-team that the highest-performing organizations around the globe are known for.

Consider a company like Disney, for example. Disney hires people who have the core skills needed to be cooks, greeters, performers, tour guides, and so on. These employees, who come from all parts of the world, bring a multitude of formative experiences and cognitive approaches. Yet, these diverse, multi-skilled individuals all share a common characteristic that makes them work effectively in teams. They have aligned motivations that support one mission: to provide guests with an extraordinary experience. That, in a nutshell, is the magic formula — bringing together groups of qualified individuals with diverse perspectives whose motivations align around a shared outcome. That’s what results in powerful A-teams.

In these teams, the members possess the required job skills, a range of cognitive tools, and a shared motivation for why they do what they do. (For more about this “why,” read Start with Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action by Simon Sinek. The book makes a great case for the importance of teaming up with those who share and support your “why.” Or, if you are short on time and looking for an 18-minute overview, check out Sinek’s TED Talk Start with Why.)

So, what can you do to build your own high-performing, diverse and inclusive super A-team? How can you optimize each of these factors in ways that will result in a super A-team?

First, make sure you hire and promote people who possess the basic job skills. A required skill, unlike a preferred characteristic, is something that someone must have in order to perform a particular job. For example, the ability to program in the C-language is a requirement for a C-programmer.

One of the best ways to determine if a candidate has the required skills is to obtain a work sample. There are many ways to do this. Some software companies ask prospective team members for a sample of their past work that approximates what he or she will be expected to do for the company. When examining this component, focus solely on judging the person’s output and determining if it meets your requirements for the job.

Next, make sure that your candidate is aligned around a “why” that will support your company and team’s core mission. If your company exists to make computing power available to the everyday person, you don’t want to hire someone whose core motivating “why” is to create a strong class distinction between the technical haves and have-nots.

On the other hand, if your company’s mission is to create and distribute new, affordable, and accessible forms of energy, you might do well hiring and promoting people who are dedicated to and motivated by the thought of helping society grow through access to resources.

There are many assessments available online that will help you determine what motivates a candidate’s behavior. Make sure these motivations, or why a person does what he or she does, align with your organizational mission. If they don’t, no matter how well a candidate meets the job skill requirements, I recommend you pass on that hire.

Finally, strive to increase the richness of the cognitive diversity you have on your team. Mark Miller, vice president of marketing at organizational development company Emergenetics International, recently published an article — titled “Improve Teamwork by Utilizing Cognitive Collaboration” — in which he stresses the importance of avoiding the Maslow’s Hammer effect, which occurs when a team takes a singular groupthink approach because members are too cognitively homogeneous — that is, every problem appears to be a nail because everyone has a cognitive hammer.

Miller — whose company has identified seven distinct thinking and behavioral styles, as well as a number of behavioral attributes — strongly recommends building teams that include all of these styles and attributes. Emergenetics International also offers tools aimed at maximizing collaboration between these styles so as to effectively pool capabilities across the team.

So, once you find candidates who have the required skills and who are aligned with your mission, strive to broaden your cognitive diversity and put in place the tools needed to support effective, inclusive collaboration across your highly diverse team.

“Recognizing the need for cognitive diversity is critical, but the activation of different perspectives is what takes teams and organizations to high performance,” Miller says. “Collaboration becomes a tool to access a company’s ‘why’ in more distinctive and boundless ways, and that means organizations are more aligned [both] internally and externally with their customers.”

In today’s highly competitive, rapidly evolving business ecosystems, no organization can afford to have teams on which any member lacks the skills, commitment, or cognitive breadth of vision and perspective needed to create a super A-team. By optimizing each of these factors effectively, any new or existing team can quickly transform into one that meets the opportunities and challenges of the 21st century. It can become a high-performing, diverse and inclusive super A-team.●

Joseph Santana is chairman of the Institute for Corporate Productivity’s (i4cp) Chief Diversity Officer Board and president of Joseph Santana, LLC. He is also a member of the INSIGHT Into Diversity Editorial Board. For more about Joe, visit