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Jul 24

What is the value of difference in building a high performing team?

There are not many speakers who invite the audience at the very start of a presentation to regard him as obnoxious! But Howard is not an ordinary presenter. With a wider and more varied career background than most, including a period as a practicing Psychoanalyst, Howard is well qualified to provide a fresh perspective on the topic of diversity.  Howard invited us to join him on a journey of thought, which he divided into three parts.



Howard suggested that there are four common character types that can be found in most teams.

TYPE 1 – THE ‘IDEAS’ PERSON   Constantly thinking of new ways of doing things. People like this are typically regarded as mavericks.
TYPE 2 – THE ‘GRAVE DIGGER’   A person who seeks order and needs to sort everything into neat boxes.
TYPE 3 – THE ‘ENGINEER’   This is someone who loves process and believes in things being done in a particular and consistent sequence.
TYPE 4 – THE ‘DOER’   Someone who likes action and has limited patience with planning. She just wants to get things moving.

The inference within Howard’s four archetypes was that the motivational drivers of everyone in a team will be influenced by factors that are little to do with the work environment and are more likely to be shaped by their genetic wiring, as well their childhood experiences.  Each will have a preference for the type of work they do.  The problem, however, is that most companies do not recognise these differences and often require people to work in a way that is misaligned with their core drivers, leading to average or below average performance.

Howard then identified several leadership archetypes:

The ‘dense’ leader, who is highly egotistical, believing he can do everyone’s job better than they can.

This type of leader does not listen and therefore lacks real understanding of what is going on in his team.
The ‘empty’ leader, who has been overpromoted and is clueless as to how to do their job.  Ideas and feedback from the team go into a void.
The invisible leader, who is rarely available to her staff, and whose focus is anywhere but on her team. She is continually travelling or in meetings.
The ’Socratic’ leader, who is clear that she doesn’t know everything.  She is therefore continually listening to her team trying to understand them. This is the type of manager that is likely to get more productivity from members of her team.
Howard’s point is that in order to successfully manage the four archetypes within the team, leaders must work with their people at the level of their identity. He emphasised that individuals are unlikely to change and so the business must adapt to them to get the best out of them, although this is incredibly challenging.


Howard noted that in a volatile and uncertain world, many organisations are seeking a step change in how they operate.

This will require a change in organisational philosophy where leaders must identify their vision of a future state and then work backwards to plan how to achieve. He cited an example of Dale Evans at Anglian Water who declared a vision for a 50% reduction in carbon from the company’s capital expenditure programme. Dale did not know how this target would be achieved but engaged the wider team in agreeing a series of steps that would lead to the desired outcome. These steps forced the team to break out of their ‘business as usual’ mindset and imagine a different future with a new working philosophy.
With such challenges, tapping into the different archetypal drivers present in the team improves the chances of breaking out of the “business as usual” mindset.

This leads us towards the challenge for leaders and managers to find out what each member of their team is really good at and harnessing it. Howard suggested that his model of archetypes has some relational aspects, where one type of person can handle knowledge or information to be passed onto the next type of person by the leadership. In this way, the team all perform at their best and the best outcome is achieved.



In the final section of his presentation, Howard focused on the distinction between the diversity of technical skills and emotionally driven cognitive skills.

His argument was that whilst a diverse range of technical skills can be taught, emotionally driven abilities are embedded, and cannot be easily learned.  Recognising the different cognitive archetypes is therefore an important element in the success of teams, particularly where the team is being asked to deliver innovation, or a step change from business as usual. Howard consequently separated diversity into three primary elements:
SKILLS DIVERSITY – knowledge and experience
IDENTITY DIVERSITY – who we are as a person
Howard noted that much of the recent discussion about diversity focuses on the need to include minority groups into teams who may otherwise be excluded based on their gender, race, sexuality and so on. His view is that this discussion is much needed to ensure equality of opportunity and that everyone in the workplace is treated with dignity and respect, regardless of our diverse identities.
Howard’s suggestion throughout the evening was that perhaps a second discussion is emerging to resolve the complex challenges today’s project teams face; one that considers diversity not only from the perspective of our identity, but also how to harness the diversity of our thought to optimise teams and deliver high performance.


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