January 12, 2022

Why is Cognitive Diversity important? How to promote it?

Did you join the meeting to find out the solutions, but no one has a new idea? Your Scrum Team has NO innovative ideas to solve the customer problems in many Sprints? Nowadays, innovations, new values are the key to success. Customers always want more of what they had and look for the news overate ideas. Therefore, the organization can't continue bringing new value to customers, can't be led, and gives the space for those who have the innovation to lead the market.

no innovation team


We can't have innovation just by saying. The innovations depend on many factors, must be nurtured, and have the know-how to nurture. In recent years and until now, my work associated with supporting and building high-performance innovation teams by applying Scrum. I found that three main factors influence how to make a high-performance team. With these three main elements, the team can create innovation by enabling these individuals to collaborate and perform effectively.

  • Cognitive diversity
  • Cultural intelligence (CQ)
  • Psychological safety


Cognitive Diversity - Scrumviet

Cognitive diversity: The key to innovation is diversification within the team.

Cognitive diversity means people with a different mindset and skill set. They have other ways to approach the problems. It means you get more perspectives on the table.

Individuals with the same opinion and knowledge will often have the same solution; they are good to solve problems that already have an answer or for less complex tasks that don't require a lot of creativity. Group of like-mind can quickly build on their experience and ability in their area of knowledge to solve problems, process their work in groups or individually (as this group will often be roughly equally skilled for a given Specific issue). So, if a problem you already know how to solve, this team will execute and solve it quickly according to specific instructions or plans.

But when you need a groundbreaking idea for a problem, no one knows the answer or knows how to do it? To deal with a complex issue where best practices no longer exist, you will need individuals with different views, different skills/knowledge. The answer is no longer within the existing experience of the group or an individual in the group. It requires a combination of individuals with different perspectives and skills. With different thinking, these individuals will create a more holistic view, more different initiatives together. Because they have many other areas of knowledge, perspectives, and experiences, there will be analysis, separation, and a broader and more diverse view of a problem they need to solve. From there, they will have more opportunities to create innovation than a group of like-minded and same-knowledgeable people.

Cognitive Diversity and performance - Scrumviet

In short, cognitive diversity is a source of innovation. But cognitive diversity can't be alone; it needs cultural intelligence and psychological safety support.


Cultural intelligence (CQ)

Intelligence today is divided into many different kinds; Christopher Earley and Soon Ang introduced the concept of "Cultural Intelligence" in the 2003 book of the same name.

If you walk into a new company, you will feel overwhelmed. Simply because you are a rookie to the culture of the new workplace, and it will take a few weeks for you to get used to it. The difference between people with high CQ will be easy to see: They are easier to accept differences, more confident, take less time to integrate. People with high CQ are more likely to link each other's differences to form the group's strengths than people with lower CQ. In other words, the group of high CQ has high inclusion. 

To build a cognitively diverse team, you'll need individuals who link group differences. In other words, you will need individuals with high CQ.


Psychological safety

An individual in the team will feel ashamed if their opinion is laughed at or underestimated. It may lead to the individual not wanting to share the opinion anymore. To me, these groups desperately need a safe and fertile ground where openness and mutual respect can be nurtured, thereby building trust among members. They will freely contribute, share views, collaborate to solve problems and create innovative products. Having a team that is always psychologically comfortable, sharing thoughts without feeling judged will support more diverse ideas.

Do you want to share new ideas if the organization penalizes terrible ideas? What if an organization calls for creativity but doesn't accept mistakes? You also will not dare to try or experience new things because you fear that your mistakes will be reprimanded by the other. But, in an environment that seeks creativity, experience and mistakes are essential to learning from mistakes and creating innovation. In the era of V.U.C.A, learning is necessary than knowing.

diversity and safety - Scrumviet


Organizations and leaders should understand that new ideas always require breakthroughs, risks, and experimentation; learning experiences help the team inspect and adapt to innovate. So, having the right mindset about the importance of mistakes, of learning culture is essential (Read more: How Does Scrum Help you Realize the Value of failure?), and having the right way to create a safe space for the team to be self-managed to learn, to grow, and to innovate to reach to the shared goal is very important.

If we ignore this last angle, no matter how much a group of individuals with cognitive diversity, high CQ, and how much they want to create innovation, it will fall apart in the blink of an eye when faced with problems, scare, unsafe. Therefore, most of my work to enable the potential of people and team is to help them understand and grow the value of Cognitive Diversity, the CQ, and support them to apply the Scrum Framework to enable the learning culture and safe environment to achieve the shared goal.

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