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Team collaboration: opposite roles

There is much talk about the benefits of diversity but diversity always poses a challenge to team communication and collaboration. Individuals' different, often opposite work styles expose to frictions and breaks in team communication and collaboration. The better the team can integrate diversity to its action, the broader and the more creative performance palette it can deliver. A two-phase team development program, analysis of collaboration is followed by analysis of team performance, see next lesson.

Inclusive collaboration

As in sport teams, mere piling up of diversity does not guarantee a broader or more creative performance palette. The value in diversity does not pop up by itself. Through times there have been teams with high member diversity but which teams can be described as stalled, quarrelsome or being torn apart to different directions. Teamwork will always be accompanied by discontinuities in communication and collaboration. Misunderstandings, interpersonal frictions and conflicts cannot be fully avoided. How the team is able to see and handle such discontinuities will determine whether diversity enhances or hampers the team's collaboration and performance.

Teams always include less visible diversity which remains unrealized into added value or synergy in the team. If an introvert does not make himself or herself seen or, if he or she is not asked about things, his or her potentially valuable input remains unused. Diversities are potentials that must be made visible, handled and integrated to the team's joint effort. Teams must nurture cultures where introverts or other less visible forms of diversity become visible, included and leveraged.

Opposite roles

Work groups as well as random groupings of people tend to include individuals with opposite roles. Individuals working in opposite styles are particularly prone to discontinuities in interaction ranging from misunderstandings to virtual absence of communication. Both opposite roles embody competence and the challenge is to link everyone's competencies for the team's benefit. Discontinuities are losses to the team while continuity creates value for the team in terms of improved communication. The figure below presents three most common pairs of opposite roles: Thinkers vs. Doers, Introverts vs. Extroverts and Implementers vs. Innovators. The respective profile can be generated by the "Group opposite roles" function in WOPI.

Opposite roles

Diversity - oppositional roles
Thinkers vs. Doers

Teams tend to incorporate people with two opposite behavioral orientations. THINKERS spend their energies in thinking and pondering about things. Thinkers are competent in perceiving things with a broad and deep scope. However, a problem may arise along their tendency to over-theorize matters and remain inactive ie., turn simple things into complex ones and spend much time in intellectual analysis instead of taking action. DOERS direct their energies into action and performance. Doers are competent in perceiving things in a concrete and practical manner. Problems may arise along their tendency to oversimplify things, skip their true complexity and jump impatiently and blindly into action. Teams need both styles ie., "things should be done with thought".

Introverts vs. Extroverts

Teams tend to incorporate people with two opposite interaction styles. INTROVERTS are competent in their focus on substance. They are strongly inner-directed which signifies competence while in some situations this points to lack of competence. Introverts' main challenge is that they are not seen or heard which leads to underutilization of their input. The culture in many teams (eg., in management teams) favors noisy display of power which tends to leave introverts in a shadowy position. EXTROVERTS are in turn competent in communication and creation of social networks. They are strongly outer-directed which is competence but may in some situations reflect lack of competence. Along their strong attention to social interaction and flashy external events ("what's in the air"), their challenge relates to superficial and hasty focus on substantive issues.

Implementers vs. Innovators

Creative teams often include travelers of the two main lanes in planning and problem solving. IMPLEMENTERS implement existing and well-proven processes. They approach things based on facts and perceive them in a practical manner by focusing attention on concrete and visible things. Implementers produce reason based standard solutions. Their competence deficits relate to poor ideation, narrow perceptions and mechanistic "by-the-book" solutions. INNOVATORS create new processes. They approach things by seeking for new ideas and openings and they perceive the big picture in things. They produce creative solutions addressing unique features in situations. Their competence deficits lie in ideas without connection to facts, broad but way too abstract perceptions and in far-fetched, in practice poorly working solutions. However, continuous and seamless communication between implementers and innovators promises remarkable competence, particularly when the team is pursuing creative achievements.

Building inclusive cultures

Examination of opposite roles leads to seeing diversity and valuing communication also in general. In new teams such perusal sessions help in getting people to know one another. In more established teams, perusal of roles helps in unlocking communication discontinuities. People may have been cemented in their old positions for years and illumination of discontinuities leads to a more open collaboration culture. Along remote work, teams are growingly operating on a multi-location basis, without its members necessarily ever being in live contact with each other. Opposite roles may function as very useful "ice breakers" through which members may - by sake of humor - get to know one another and experience belongingness to the team.

The most important goal is the creation of a diversity-inclusive culture. In new teams, people's tendency of digging themselves into defensive trenches is avoided before this begins to develop. In more established teams, taboos swept under the carpet may be exposed. Synergy, added value is not reached until diversity becomes integrated to the team's collaboration and shared effort. Compared to the broad opposite roles, more individualized descriptions of diverse competencies can be attained with the use of the "Experts" card deck. These cards used in career planning comprise 20 expert figures furnished with descriptions of their typical behaviors and ways of thinking. Making guesses of each others as different expert figures in a playful manner leads team members getting to know each others' ways of acting and thinking. Team members may also benefit from knowing what competencies others see in themselves.


Overall, the root cause for the growing importance of diversity relates to the enormous increase in environmental complexity. The importance of diversity grows as simple routine tasks are replaced by broader and more complex tasks requiring creative problem solving. Diversity is of particular concern to teams pursuing creation of new things, in planning new products or services which requires rich influx of ideas, broad perceptions and creative solutions. A very recent article in Nature magazine's research reports is a methodologically interesting study of start-up founders' personality factors (McCarthy et al., 2023). The target group comprised a huge number (21,187) of globally operating start-ups. Personality factors were assessed from team founders' coming out narratives in Twitter (today X) and Crunchbase (capital investors' chronicle). The first research result was that there is no single start-up personality. Instead, the researchers identified six personality types (fighters, operators, accomplishers, leaders, engineers and developers). The more important finding was that successful founder teams were characterized by high diversity among personality factors. The researchers made a point that the value of diversity pertains not only to creative groups but involves for example all project based and cross-functional teams.

Wikipedia on Team Diversity. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Team_diversity.


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