The Power of Opposites

The Power of Opposites

If given the choice, would you work with someone who’s similar to you and shares your views? Or would you choose someone who’s quite dissimilar, and has a different perspective?

Research suggests that we make better decisions in diverse groups than in homogeneous ones, but that we feel less confident in those decisions1. Why? Maybe because making decisions with people similar to us feels easy; if we’re all on the same page from the start it must be the right page, mustn’t it? The overconfidence that we’re prone to individually, gets multiplied in homogeneous groups.

On the other hand, making a decision with a bunch of people who have different perspectives can be a struggle. In a diverse group people often voice divergent views. They disagree with one another. Someone likely needs to compromise. And the whole thing can just feel a bit rocky. The decision may be better, but it doesn’t always feel better.

So teams need to ask themselves what they would rather have, an inferior decision that you feel really good about? Or a superior one, that doesn’t sit quite as well? Most of us would say we want the superior decision of course, but our actions don’t always back this up. A classic study on devil’s advocacy has shown that despite the improved performance teams gain from the presence of a devil’s advocate, when given the option to rid themselves of a team member, he or she is the one they’re most likely to oust2.

Further, there’s working with someone different from you, and then there’s working with someone really different from you. By definition, the more of a Driver you are, the less of an Integrator (and vice-versa). Likewise, the more of a Pioneer you are, the less of a Guardian (and vice-versa again). Working with your “opposite type” can be most challenging of all, but it also may have the greatest opportunity for some real complementary value. Kim Christfort wrote about this previously in her post Not Just Child’s Play- Learning Chemistry from Kindergartners.

Here in Deloitte’s Leadership Center for Clients, we work all the time with teams who’re grappling with this challenge. They know diversity can make them stronger, but when the going gets tough they need a bit of a reminder why it’s worth the effort. In these times we like to do an exercise called Power of Opposites.

We ask groups of like-type individuals to brainstorm the value brought to the team by their opposite-type colleagues. And then we ask them to share their appreciation out-loud. In the best cases it can become a real love-fest. And it helps build goodwill among colleagues who may have a hard time working together.

Here are some of the highlights of what our teams have had to say:

We Drivers love Integrators because they…

  • bring a collaborative spirit to the team
  • keep an eye on team morale
  • encourage us to include diverse views

We Integrators love Drivers because they…

  • keep us moving forward at a swift pace
  • are not afraid to ask challenging questions
  • encourage competition in a way that pushes us

We Guardians love Pioneers because they…

  • bring energy and passion to every interaction
  • are optimistic and encourage us to take risks
  • are full of new and interesting ideas

We Pioneers love Guardians because they…

  • help us keep track of the details
  • serve as a reality-check
  • keep us out of trouble

Does your team need a little extra incentive to embrace the challenge of working across types? You might want to try out this exercise yourself. And if you’re personally struggling to appreciate an opposite type colleague, you can even do this on your own. Why not start by sharing your thoughts here. What are your favorite things about your opposite type?


Dr. Suz

Suzanne Vickberg, PhD (aka Dr. Suz)
Dr. Suz is the LCC’s very own social-personality psychologist, which means she studies how people’s thoughts, behaviors and preferences are influenced by both who they are and the situations they’re in. She uses Business Chemistry to help teams explore how the mix of perspectives brought by their individual members influences their work together. Follow her on Twitter @DrSuzBizChem

1Phillips, K.W., Liljenquist, K.A. and Neale, M.A. (2009). Is the pain worth the gain? The advantages and liabilities of agreeing with socially distinct newcomers. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 35, 336-350.

2Boulding, E. (1964). Further reflections on conflict management. In R. L. Kahn & E. Boulding (Eds.) Power and Conflict in Organizations. New York: Basic Books.

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10 thoughts on “The Power of Opposites

  1. You could be talking about introverts and extroverts here. There are many ways to understand team dynamics but as you point out the important thing is that we learn to understand each other and learn to work together for the team’s advantage. Cheers!

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    1. True! Thanks for your comment, Lesley. Pioneers and Guardians in particular, do fall on opposite ends of the extrovert-introvert spectrum. And we find that explicitly pointing out some of the differences, even if we don’t bring the discussion any further, provides people with some important aha’s. When we get in to discussing the value of bringing together different perspectives it’s even better!

      Like

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