Every four years the best sporting athletes on our planet convene to compete and to win. They are grouped into teams according to their country of birth. Some are mixed, some all-male, some female teams. Typically the teams with the largest talent pool to choose from e.g. the USA, China and Russia come away with the most medals. But not always. As I write, the tiny island of Great Britain is third on the medal table at the Rio 2016 Olympics :-)
So what makes a top performing team? In business there is much talk about, and research into, what makes a successful or a 'smart team'. For example, in Forbes, Christine Crawford, neuroleadership expert and author of "SmartTribes: How Teams Become Brilliant Together" argues that people need three conditions in order to get in their "Smart State": safety, belonging and mattering. Without these three essentials we "cannot perform, innovate, feel emotionally engaged, agree, move forward".
Another well-evidenced argument for a successful team, and for effective group thinking to happen, is diversity - one of the buzz words in business today. Diversity of people - age, gender, ethnic background - and diversity of thinking. Why? Because coming at a business challenge from another perspective or perspectives allows for different, and often new solutions to be explored that may not otherwise be considered. As Paul McCartney sang in the Beatles hit We Can Work It Out: "Try to see it my way." (Apologies, as my loyal readership knows, I love a song lyric!)
Hmmm... To me it feels like there is a contradiction here: can we create a sense of belonging from a diverse group of people? Birds of a feather flock together for a reason. We gravitate towards our kind - tribes - to find safety and belonging. And yet organisations today are encouraging diversity of teams.
Diversity doesn't just mean a gathering of different types of people from different backgrounds or countries. It can mean different roles, different views, different vantage points and different experiences. But there needs to be commonality. A common goal, purpose or objective.
Earlier this year I met a group of people - all, like me, professional coaches. Their common purpose? To help women fly high in business. This group, this organisation, is called The Bird Table. In this organisation I have found belonging, mattering, safety. And diversity. We aren't all women coaches. We all live in different parts of the world. We are multigenerational, we have had different first careers and therefore bring a wealth of business experience. We are a team. Working together to support one specific, minority segment of the working population: women.
How do we do it? By facilitating groups of women so that they may work together, to harness their collective intelligence, to help solve their business goals. Why do we do it this way? What are the benefits of a woman-only Smart Team?
Without of course generalising, as individual business leaders, women can have a tendency to question themselves, to lack confidence in their ability when facing tough challenges in work. Certainly I have experienced it myself and in coaching other women.
And I have seen in Emotional Intelligence assessments that while women often score high on empathy (to go back to the Beatles hit, they can absolutely see it your way), relationship skills and self-knowing, they can equally score lower on self-confidence, self-control and self-reliance.
Our inner critic tells us we couldn't possibly, that we'll fail, we'll look like an imposter, or we're too good a little school girl to take that risk. We procrastinate, or we wait until conditions are optimal (perfectionism); and consequently we're often, therefore, waiting a long time.
But if there is another woman - or two, three or four - with you when working it out, the results are impressive. Women are buoyed and empowered by the xx collective. Why? What happens? A few things can:
1. We give each other time to think. We are respectful listeners. We pay attention. We make each other feel heard. Like we matter.
2. We empathise - we are more sensitive to others' perspectives, needs and wants. And we can demonstrate in our communication that we are, which creates calm, trust and creativity - we are natural serotonin-pumps.
3. We challenge by asking respectful questions. And we encourage thoughtful answers. And we wait patiently for these.
4. We source wisdom from the crowd. We gather the collective and diverse intelligence and we consider all options.
4. We support. With our body language and with our words. We might not always agree, but we make each other feel safe. And like we belong.
There is huge merit in creating diverse thinking environments in business. But there is also a time and a place for women to work together, especially in organisations where they are in the minority or where they struggle to find those who feel pre-disposed to take the time out to help and to collaborate.