Challenge “Samers”

I often hear a phrase coming from the lips of hiring managers that makes me cringe. “We want to hire someone who will fit into our group.” A lot of effort is expended in screening candidates with personality tests, multiple interviews, even role plays in order to determine that the new hire will be similar in thinking to the existing team. I think this is a big mistake.

It is often the maverick or even outcast among a group of people who comes up with the genius solutions to problems or creates entirely new streams of income. When we seek to have everyone “fit in” we lose the potential for diversity of thought that is a major part of the creative process.

My leadership team was blessed with a mixture of line managers from a variety of backgrounds, ethnicity, and gender. These were in a constant state of flux because all were growing and moving in their careers, creating slots for others.

Often, it was the minority representation that brought the group up short when we were off base. They would help us realize our gut perspectives were not to be trusted. They would point out when we slipped into a dangerous “group think” or “monoculture” mentality.

In “The Contrarian’s Guide to Leadership,” Steven Sample described it this way:

“A highly homogeneous organization is as susceptible to disease and infestations as a large biological monoculture. Every farmer knows that when he and his neighbors plant tens of thousands of contiguous acres in a particular variety of wheat year after year, that variety will soon become vulnerable to new diseases or new strains of insects. Ecosystems that are biologically diverse are much tougher and more resilient in the long run than monocultures, and so it is with organizations that contain a wide variety of people working toward a common goal.”

It was important to have a variety of people on the team and critical to listen when they pointed out our naiveté. It kept us growing and searching for a greater appreciation of diversity. Although no group ever fully understands the issue, at least if we embrace diversity, we can be a little less blind.

Obviously, it is a good idea to avoid putting a person on the team who is a total misfit, is disruptive, or always brings up a contrary point of view creating dissent. Instead, try to foster a mixture of ideas and points of view by following the actions:

1. If personality tests are used to screen candidates, seek to place people with different style patterns.

2. During interviews, try to determine the level of independent thinking while also determining an appropriate level of teamwork.

3. When asking about prior experiences and background, put high value on skills that will add new dimensions to the existing team rather than map closely with existing team skills.

4. Do not look for clones in terms of demographic and ethnic characteristics. Always seek to increase the variety of the team where possible.

5. Seek to make strategic moves of people from one team to another that will add diversity of thought to both groups.

6. Continually reinforce the idea that we can gain our greatest strength from diversity.

Building a strong team means not going the comfortable route where we hire and place people just like us. That is a formula for mediocrity.

9 Responses to Challenge “Samers”

  1. Bill Quiseng says:

    Robert,
    I couldn’t agree with you more when you say,”Building a strong team means not going the comfortable route where we hire and place people just like us. That is a formula for mediocrity,” which is ironic since one of my leadership mantras is: “When two men in business always agree, one of them is unnecessary.”

    But I also believe this quote from Frank A. Clark to be true: “We find comfort among those who agree with us – growth among those who don’t.” Thank you for sharing your insight. I am always growing from it.

    • trustambassador says:

      Thanks Bill. As a manager, it is so easy to fall into a trap of building a team that is just like you. Great leaders are able to recognize the trap and avoid it.

  2. Robert,

    Nicely put. One image that might “fit” well with your perspective is that of a mosaic.

    In a mosaic, pieces are rarely the same — some have quite jagged edges (i.e., different ideas, as it were) — but they all “fit” together in a complementary way to form a vibrant picture. In that way, maybe fit isn’t about “sameness” but rather, it’s about using your unique voice/talents to contribute to the common mission. If the team is all working toward the same mission, then by definition, each of the members “fits.”

    Michael

  3. Similarity biases when staffing can also lead to growth of the Pygmalion effect within an organization. That being said, how can a “maverick” candidate being considered, battle this bias, and highlight the benefits you discuss here.

    • Bob Whipple says:

      That is an excellent question, Vince. Perhaps the best thing to do is to discuss how your unique ideas can be a significant benefit to the organization as opposed to another person voicing the same old ideas.

    • trustambassador says:

      I agree, Vince. It can be a really difficult route for the mavrick candidate. I think it part of the art of good leadership to embracepeople for their uniqueness and not their conformity, yet is much easier to do the latter. Interesting observation about the Pygmalion effect.

  4. Great topic. I worked for a director years ago who is explained this concept. She said qualifications were only a part of what she was seeking, she was looking to find a person with what the team didn’t already possess in background, communication and management styles. Would be great if all teams were built around this concept. I also agree with Bob, it’s sometimes hard to be “unique”.

    • trustambassador says:

      Right Patty. It is a fine balancing act that is part of determining the elite leaders from the OK ones.

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