Teamwork Over Individual Genius
Sign of the times: Shepherd of Windows™ operating system ousted over bad teamwork skills.
Steven Sinofsky is a sign of the times: Teamwork Over Individual Genius. Anyone who thinks communication and collaboration are “soft” skills might want to consider the recent ousting of an incredible outlier, a modern icon of business efficiency, and the Shepard of the Windows operating system including Windows 8.
From all accounts Mr. Sinofsky was ousted for one simple reason: he didn’t play well with others. This wasn’t an edict from HR either. The bottom line was affected negatively. While synergies in other areas of Microsoft were leading to revenue generating increases, Windows remained relatively isolated and protected.
Very few if any of us are more talented than Steven Sinofsky in terms of solving problems and meeting deadlines for highly complex projects. His competence is at the highest level. That’s what makes this such a compelling example of the modern reality; collaboration and synergies between things: products, people, divisions, companies, and industries, are the new profit grabs. How do you integrate, imbed, and combine your companies, or your divisions, products and services with others to maximize revenue?
Teamwork Over Individual Genius: Why diversity is key for teams to beat the genius outlier.
In short, because all humans, even the most intelligent amongst us, are really good at confirming our own ideas and very bad at looking for new solutions outside of our own tunnel vision. This phenomenon is known as the “confirmation bias” and has been proved in numerous studies. Another fascinating phenomenon is called “belief perseverance”: once we form a belief about something we keep that belief even if we are presented with compelling contradictory evidence. Our minds will rationalize away any chance that our belief could be wrong.
The combination of these two prevalent behavioral tendencies is why even very intelligent people, geniuses, and outliers are limited in their potential effectiveness. In fact the more successful they become the more they trust their own thoughts and ideas, and the more closed off they can become to new ideas.
These tendencies also make the sharing of ideas, and combining ideas into something greater than the sum of the parts, extremely challenging. There has to be trust and awareness between people in order to get past these powerful tendencies, and on top of that a basic skill set of communication, problem solving, and leadership. This is what we call Dynamic Discourse™. Jonathan Haidt in his recent bestselling book The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion describes it perfectly:
“If you put individuals together in the right way, such that some individuals can use their reasoning powers to disconfirm the claims of others, and all individuals feel some common bond or shared fate that allows them to interact civilly, you can create a group that ends up producing good reasoning as an emergent property of the social system. This is why it’s so important to have intellectual and ideological diversity within any group or institution whose goal is to find truth (or the best solutions).”
Teamwork Over Individual Genius: The best conversations often happen informally.
At Microsoft, and most likely in your life, the best conversations often happen informally: at dinner, over drinks, lunch, walking in nature, or traveling somewhere new. An often overlooked profit source is investing directly in connecting your people in meaningful ways. Companies often have people who have never met, or who have met only once or twice, working the same jobs or working on the same teams.
There are revenue significant downsides to this, and large upsides for turning it around; and it’s easier than you may think. The downsides manifest themselves mostly, although not exclusively, when things are difficult. This is when you will see highly unproductive behavior as a direct result of shallow relationships put under pressure.
The converse of this, where you have invested in connecting your people in meaningful ways, is that in difficult times you will see improved performance. In addition, you will benefit from the authentic transfer of best practices between people of similar profession. They will like and understand each other better, they will trust each other more, and they will share information and have a real interest in improving the lives of others in the company.
In addition, companies can benefit from the types of synergies Microsoft generated at afterhours dinners. Integrating product lines, sharing clients, cross selling, team selling, sharing of best practices to improve operational efficiency, and many, many, more direct benefits come from investing in helping people to understand themselves and others better, and understanding the basic skills of teamwork, problem solving, and leadership.
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