A team can only be as good as the combined skills of its members. So what qualities combine to create a crackerjack team? And how can you deal with each other’s differences?

Design is synthesis — there is no such thing as invention from whole cloth. In one form or another, design is the recombination of existing parts. The best way to ensure that you produce the best designs is by putting together a team of people who bring different skills, backgrounds, perspectives, viewpoints and cognitive styles. A team with divergent views will pick up on more design pieces to combine and will come up with more ways to combine the pieces.

Divergent Views Foster Broad Thinking

People see, understand and respond to the world in different ways. It’s the dynamics between the different kinds of cognition that makes teams work or fail. Each style brings a different and distinct, yet important, ingredient to create a well-rounded team:

  • Clouds are airy and visionary — they see the big picture. Clouds produce energy, but only energy. Without clouds, the team won’t go anywhere, but a team of only clouds won’t go in any direction.
  • Bricks will give a practical and workable, but boring design. A team of all bricks won’t break new ground; it will go in one direction, but not any distance.
  • Christmas Lights Thinkers have orderly, linear minds, with all the facts lined up correctly. But like old-fashioned Christmas lights, if one bulb goes out, the whole string goes out. The Christmas lights thinker can’t move forward until every detail is in place — a missing fact can stop all progress.
  • Web Thinkers, on the other hand, don’t think in any kind of linear order. Everything is like a web, connected to everything else. You can enter the web at any point and keep making more and more connections. The Web thinkers have sweeping thoughts and very low tolerance for detail.
  • Thread Thinkers create different kind of connection. For thread thinkers, everything has a theme. They can weave all the parts together and tell a coherent story.
  • Poppers don’t connect anything. They free associate off of everything and pop one design idea after another. Poppers bring very divergent thinking and ideas.
  • Schmoozers can add value in larger corporations where your team may appear isolated, as if it’s working in secret. The schmoozer spreads the word, networking with management and other organizations.

Finding the Right Balance

Specific styles of thinking can complement — or conflict with — each other. By choosing the right members, you can create a balanced team, with each member contributing to group thought. The idea is to match people up to spark creativity, though, not ignite a conflagration. Which types of people complement each other? Who should you keep apart? And how do you deal with the irritation created by their differences?

Clouds and Bricks

It’s the dynamics between Clouds and Bricks that makes things work. To be really a top design team, you must have both clouds and bricks. Without both, you’ll go nowhere.

Christmas Lights versus Webs

The good news with a Christmas lights thinker is that you will have all the relevant facts you need to support your design.
Christmas lights thinkers will be at odds with Web thinkers, because the Web thinker can’t deal with details, and the Christmas lights thinker can’t let them go. If both are extreme types they may be unable to work together, but if they understand who they are may be able to practice tolerance. The best Christmas lights thinker I ever worked with finally figured out she was a Christmas lights thinker. And when she got stuck on a missing detail, she would tell us, —Wait, my light bulb went off.— The team could then understand and either find the missing fact or ask her to write the issue down and wait for them to finish what they were doing.

Thread Thinkers versus Poppers

On the other hand, Thread Thinkers and Poppers can be great together, because as the Popper pops ideas, the Thread thinker weaves them into their story. So you end up with a much better design that is divergent, yet integrated and connected. Still, they need to practice tolerance. Otherwise, the Popper can annoy the Threader by talking nonstop while the Threader is trying to thread. And the Popper will feel they aren’t valued and wonder why they’re getting yelled at when they were just sharing one of their design ideas.

Design Idea for Dealing with Each Other

We all suffer from our cognitions in one form or another, but the real issue is simply our generic free association. This happens no matter what kind of cognition you have. If you are a Christmas lights thinker, one little fact reminds you of something else and so you have to talk about it. If you’re a Web thinker, one part of the web is always hooked to another part of the web. Everything is in association with everything else, so something comes to mind.

The root of the problem isn’t the idea; it’s feeling the need to talk about it. But just because something pops into your mind doesn’t mean it has to pop out of your mouth that instant. That’s why we keep Post-its handy. The easiest way to work with each other is to show mutual respect. Instead of interrupting someone with an idea, write it down as it occurs. Then the team can deal with the idea at an appropriate time and give it the attention it deserves.