How to recognize the good and the bad of team diversity
Ryan and Ryan P found this great test by JT O’Donnell to find out personality type. Of course, we have each taken tons of personality tests, but what I really liked about JT’s test is that it was only twenty questions, and it revealed each of the three of us perfectly.
The test immediately explained why Ryan P is writing posts about how crazy it is to work with me, and I’m writing posts like the one about a rash on his upper thigh. Because really the test lays bare each of our very different ways of operating: Ryan P is an empathizer, I am an energizer and Ryan is a commander. Basically, Ryan P and I are sick of Ryan being a dictator, and now I know why. And Ryan is sick of Ryan P doing nothing, and now I see why – because a commander would never even notice the work of an empathizer.
Also, I have meetings with each of them every day trying to help everyone to get along, and now I know why: I am someone who is always optimistic and I want everyone else to be happy too. Great for blogging, difficult for corralling two ornery twentysomethings who keep calling their parents to get a second opinion on what I say.
When I was in grad school, let me just say right now that I never read a complete book for any class, but that didn’t stop me from having some favorites. And one of them was Between Men: English Literature and Male Homosexual Desire. I read this book for a course about.. um. I can’t actually remember. But each week in this course we watched a Hitchcock movie and then talked about deconstructionism and homosexuality.
So, anyway, this book I loved was about how in the history of English literature, men related to each other through women. Even if the men were not gay, they were often mediated by a woman. I remember thinking to myself that this is such a lame way to function and that only lame women would put up with this position in life. But look, here I am. And actually, it does not feel lame so much as useful.
I can see that I have had this position at work a lot. Men who are getting along at work can talk about football and go to strip clubs together. But men who are not getting along at work do well to put a woman in between them. Women seem to be natural mediators.
Right now is the time when people will start gearing up to write a comment to me about how gender is complicated, and the lines are not so clearly drawn anymore, and I am peddling stereotypes. This might all be true, but I get the temerity to talk about gender lines from danah boyd, a fellow at the Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard, and my hero when it comes to philosophizing about identity. She found that in the blogosphere, in general, men link to men and women link to women. This is because gender stereotypes are generally right, and men and women are very different.
Okay. So back to my idea that I am the mediator. I don’t mind, because I’m good at it. And I don’t mind that Ryan P doesn’t churn out work really quickly, because he does a lot of things that Ryan and I are not great at, like having the patience to meet with people day after day for long and languishing lunches.
Each of us has strengths. But let’s talk a minute about weaknesses. We each have weaknesses, too. So why don’t we stop trying to work with them? Why not admit the stuff we are not great at and move on? I think a lot of people take a test like JT’s and then ignore the fact that the test reveals what we should NOT be doing as much as what we should be doing.
For example, I should not be making labored decisions where I gather tons of information. I’m not like that. I make fast, gut-level decisions. This is why I was terrible as an account manager in an ad agency: I had to justify every decision to my client and I kept thinking, “Whatever. It’s just my instinct. Please just shut up and trust me.”
You need to recognize what you arenotgreat at, and stop doing it. It will help the people around you to get more work done, and it will help you to perform more like a star.
And for now, I have stopped asking Ryan to have empathy for anyone. And I have stopped asking Ryan P to analyze business models. The act of letting someone work in the area they are strong is such a gift, and of course I want to give that – I’m an energizer.
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