Poorly Constructed Teams Can Doom Innovation

March 31, 2012
Dr. Darren McKnight, author and innovation expert, agrees. He says managers should form teams with an eye toward “cognitive diversity,” which helps “manage a team’s potential liabilities to exploit its untapped benefits.”

“Automation is a team sport,” says John Berra, former chairman of Emerson Process Management and columnist for Automation World. In his column this month (click here), he says, “Teams can do great things, but they present a real management challenge because team dynamics can impact the overall results. My experience has shown me that the ultimate success of a team is directly related to how the team is formed and launched.”

Dr. Darren McKnight, author and innovation expert, agrees.  He says managers should form teams with an eye toward “cognitive diversity,” which helps “manage a team’s potential liabilities to exploit its untapped benefits.”

McKnight says cognitive diversity comes from involving individuals with a wide array of backgrounds, training and life experiences, using strong communications techniques. Teams made up of people with homogenous backgrounds not only produce the minimum of skill variety, he says, but also don’t interact as well.

“As a result, they will pursue comfortable approaches, not innovative ones,” McNight says.

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Forming a cognitively diverse team focuses on eliminating three types of errors that often plague team dynamics:

  • Anchoring error–seizing on the first bit of information that makes an impression.
  • Availability error–mistakenly applying past events to the situation at hand.
  • Attribution error–leader relying on a stereotype to which he/she attributes the project’s problems.

The size of the team matters, too, says McNight: Eight or more members on a team can be expected to just inform and educate, while five to eight members can inform and educate, then act and decide. Two to four members on a team “can inform and educate to empower action and decision, then finally learn,” he says.

The net result of a cognitively diverse approach to teamwork, “will be the cross-application of proven solutions from disparate domains, which creates powerfully creative approaches that highlight learning as the spark for innovation,” he says. “This truly is the mode by which an organization can encourage its members to think outside the box.”

The book, "Hitting the Innovation Jackpot," is available online through Amazon and Barnes & Noble. Contact McKnight at [email protected]

Renee Robbins Bassett, [email protected], is Managing Editor of Automation World.

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