The value of a cognitively diverse team

Thursday, May 4, 2023

Ideation sessions with smaller, more intimate groups generally lead to more creativity, productivity, and efficiency, than sessions led with larger teams. A small setting sometimes triggers the instinct for survival, which fuels the need to innovate. It forces you to trust in your resources, think fast, dream big, and utilize individual talents for the best possible purpose.

In other words, working within small teams drives ingenuity, divergent thinking, and success. This makes the team cognitively diverse, and skilled at creative problem-solving.

When team members have more ideas, they communicate better, share more information, and read others’ emotions accurately. Trust within the team also increases. They are able to create human-centered design solutions that have greater value to more users. When combined, these factors lead to effective collaboration—the secret sauce to success in business.

If your team consists of people with different educational backgrounds, worldviews, motivations, cultural upbringings, genders, ages, and experiences, then congratulations—your team is cognitively diverse and able to create strong human-centered designs.

The more cognitive diversity you have in your team, the greater collective intelligence and ability to create impactful solutions will be. Here are some ways to ensure your team is cognitively diverse:


1. Make sure you’re hiring people with different educational backgrounds. For example, if there’s a mathematician in your team, hire an economist next.

2. Commit to employing people of varying ages. It’s very common for young people to be hired for their fresh ideas and energy, but older employees can also bring valuable experience to the table.

3. Properly balance genders within the team. This ensures diversity of communication styles, which is beneficial for problem solving.

4. Employees from various industries can also bring diversity of thought to your team. The team can always benefit from seeing things from an alternate point of view.


Ultimately, cognitively diverse teams outperform homogeneous groups on many tasks, including problem solving and decision making, while having higher collective intelligence. And if the team is relatively small, you gain more efficiency, eliminate bureaucracy, and accelerate outcomes.

Parker Lee

Parker Lee is the managing partner of Territory, a design consultancy, who has developed and led teams in transformation, design thinking, and business development for decades. Co-author of The Art of Opportunity, he has created and facilitated dozens of design and visual thinking engagements.

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