Why CIOs should listen to the most annoying person on their team

Having people on the team that don’t think like you is a major advantage in terms of innovation (Image Peshkova / iStockPhoto)

Most people know the pain of having someone on a team that really gets their goat.

Some years ago, Gartner research director Daniel Sanchez Reina was working for a corporate and inherited a team during an office move. The team was large and diverse and “a real pain to lead,” he said.

“Constantly, every day we had friction between the members and between the members and myself,” Sanchez Reina, a former CIO of Sony Europe, said.

It was quite a change from the team he had built and led at the previous site. The old team was “a team of IT people that were clones of me. They were people that thought like me and felt like me,” he said.

While the first team was ‘optimizational’ and excelled at improving existing processes, the second team, were ‘transformational’ and able to “create, great new things,” Sanchez Reina said.

Having people on the team that don’t think like you is a major advantage when it comes to innovation and thinking outside the box, he said.

Speaking at Gartner Symposium on the Gold Coast earlier this month, Sanchez Reina recalls jokingly of having a colleague so infuriating it made him want to “commit a crime”.

“He was a person that preferred to work alone and the interaction with others was quite rude and it created a lot of friction. But when it comes to thought diversity, which is the way we approach solutions, that person was exceptional. He connected the dots very quickly and he achieved really pragmatic solutions,” Sanchez Reina said.

Grin and bear them

While the benefits of other types of diversity are clear – for example McKinsey says ethnically diverse businesses are 35% more productive and 9% more profitable; while Morgan Stanley said gender diversity focused businesses enjoy higher productivity, better decision making and higher employee satisfaction – the case for thought diversity has only recently come to the fore.

One of the problems CIOs face when they are seeking to innovate and bring about change in their companies, is the fact IT leaders all think alike.

In 2014, research from the European School of Management and Technology in Berlin, found that out of 16 personality types in the widely-used psychometric instrument the Myers Briggs Type Indicator, most CIOs were one in particular.

In what the researchers called a “startling finding”, the research discovered 70% of CIOs were ISTJs, with their main traits being introversion, sensing, thinking and judging. That’s a significant figure given only 13% of the general population is of the ISTJ personality type.

“An ISTJ is a quiet person, reliable, matter of fact, loves routine, loves to do the same thing every day. And they are very proud of having a very orderly and organized professional and personal life. And they think they are always right…” Sanchez Reina said.

They are not especially suited to radical thinking, unlike their personality opposite, the ENFPs (characterized by their extraversion, intuition, feeling and perception).

“When it comes to the mantra of these digital times – innovation, change – it’s quite clear [ENFPs] are more sexy,” Sanchez Reina said.

When it comes to generating new ideas and approaches, CIOs need to involve ENFPs Reina said, even if there’s a personality clash.

“Embrace diversity. Bring to the decision table those people that you do not have a very strong relationship with. Bring to the decision table those people that you cannot bear at work, that think and feel very differently to you, bring them to the decision table and they will do the job for you,” he said.

We-dentity

Of course, having a range of personality types in one team isn’t always easy to manage.

“Diversity can create discord. It can create chaos. It can divide as much as it can unite,” Sanchez Reina said.

To remedy this, Sanchez Reina recommends creating a document which lays out the team’s collective identity; or ‘we-dentity’.

“If you want to create an effective diverse team you have to create a we-dentity. The sum of individual identities is not a collective identity; it’s noise, it’s chaos, it’s a cacophony,” Sanchez Reina said.

“A we-dentity is a brand new and unique description of your diverse team,” he added.

The document – which should be put together collaboratively with the whole team – has three parts. The first is the team’s ‘why’ or mission statement, which said why the function exists and what it does.

“The second thing you need are the ruling behaviors. They are the behaviors the team has to accept to be successful with the why statement. It can be resilience, collaboration. It is not you dictating, it is your team putting on the table the behaviors they need to thrive,” Sanchez Reina said.

The third part lays out the team’s conflict management rules for the inevitable clashes.

“Any human collective creates conflicts. We have to set the clear rules to manage those conflicts. If there is a disagreement between two members – how would you manage the conflict?” Sanchez Reina asked.

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