As diverse as Shrek and Donkey: Celebrating the benefits of personality diversity
Updated: Dec 18, 2019
This article was published on Six Degrees Executive.
When employees leave their personalities – the combination of characteristics that form their individual, distinctive character – at the door, they leave the best part of themselves behind. Diverse personalities can bring innovation, distinct ways of working and thinking and, ultimately, additional value to your organisation.
We often hear about the benefits of diversity in the workplace with reference to the LGBTQ+ community, women, different ethnicities and religions and people with disabilities. But diversity of personality and cognitive differences are often overlooked.
If you’re new to the concept and looking to better understand diverse personalities and how to accommodate them within your organisation, a quick Google of personality types might leave you feeling overwhelmed. Some sites will tell you there are four distinct personality types, while others will claim there are eight or even sixteen types. Is your introverted yet artistic but also highly supportive and emotionally intelligent team member a cheerleader, a nurturer or a stabiliser? The answer depends who you ask or which personality test you take.
But you don’t have to buy into tests like Myers Briggs and Jung Type Index to believe that the best teams have a mix of personalities who can bring a difference of opinion, perspective and ideas to the table.
Let’s use the film Shrek to illustrate this point. Shrek himself, an antisocial and stubborn loner, is extremely introverted but also (as he attests) “many-layered”. His best friend Donkey is larger than life and bursting with outwardly expressed love and affection – a classic cheerleader. He couldn’t be more extroverted. On the surface, these two are incompatible. But when the two work together and learn to celebrate, and even indulge, their differences, they produce some of their best work. In the process of “rescuing” Princess Fiona they overcome a dragon and Lord Farquaad and succeed in re-homing a whole host of fairy-tale creatures – not bad for a few days’ work.
The lesson we can take from this is that organisations should create a working environment in which diverse personalities and cognitive differences are encouraged, rather than homogenised. Only then can diverse thinkers deliver their best work.
Attracting diverse personalities to your team
Traditional recruitment processes are not conducive to hiring a diverse range of talent. If your organisation places too much emphasis on educational backgrounds or assesses candidates’ capabilities through conventional academic testing, you risk overlooking top talent.
Whilst some people tick all the qualification boxes and can perform well in high-pressured assessment centres or gruelling interviews, these scenarios can be a nightmare for others. An introverted candidate won’t deliver in a competitive group interview scenario any more than a dyslexic candidate will do well filling in a long application form.
Effective changes you can make to your recruitment processes to address these issues include:
Asking for more information – some candidates, if given the opportunity, will be more than happy to disclose personal information about themselves that might impact their application. This will enable you to accommodate any differences and amend your assessments as appropriate.
Testing across the board – broaden your hiring processes to test a whole variety of skills in different ways. A candidate who doesn’t appear as qualified on paper could outperform your assumed front-runners in certain areas.
Tailoring your recruitment processes – tailor your assessments for different roles to test the most important skills for that specific role.
Playing to your team’s diverse strengths
In a team comprised of introverts, extroverts, people with neuro-diversities and everything in between, getting the most out of everyone is no small feat.
Each person thinks, behaves, and triumphs in different ways. Allowing this to play out naturally is the key to managing a high-performing diverse team. Fostering a flexible working environment and playing to people’s strengths increases productivity, innovation and employee retention – it’s a win-win.
Companies across the globe are realising the value of employing neuro-diverse workers. For example:
Microsoft, Ford, EY and JP Morgan Chase are involved with the “Autism at Work” program, which encourages the hiring of autistic candidates due to their unique skillset.
Tech company Auticon exclusively hires adults on the autistic spectrum.
In 2018, EY and Made by Dyslexia produced a report, The Value of Dyslexia, which explores the talents and strengths of people with dyslexia and how to tap in to their potential in the workplace.
In 2014 a UK intelligence and security organisation called GCHQ explored the benefits in hiring neuro-diverse spies.
Creating a safe space for diverse personalities to flourish
Google’s Project Aristotle worked to discover the qualities that result in highly effective teams, revealing psychological safety as the stand-out attribute.
Psychological safety is achieved when team members are willing and confident to take risks in the opinions they voice, challenge ideas and provoke debate in the knowledge that it won’t impact their careers or how they are perceived – no matter how confronting or controversial. Employees should also feel safe to be their authentic selves rather than attempting to change their personalities to align with a corporate ideal.