I recently participated in a strategic planning session for Gennesaret Free Clinics, a not-for-profit medical and dental services provider in Indianapolis, Indiana.
I’ve now served on Gennesaret’s Board of Directors for six years, and this is the second strategic planning process in which I’ve participated with GFC. Our Saturday meeting included 13 board members and three staff members pulled together in a standing-room only conference room. My initial sense that the size of this group might make the discussion a bit cumbersome was quickly dispelled by some well-thought out structure by our facilitator (thanks Karen Porter!) and the nature of the participants. We had an amazing array of personalities, perspectives, experiences, ages, orientations, professions, neighborhoods, incomes, sense-of-humors and passions represented in this group. As the day progressed, I was amazed time and again at the results produced by this large, diverse group. My conclusion? The diversity of our group was a critical factor in the overall success of our planning process.
In their book, How Google Works, Eric Schmidt and Jonathan Rosenberg describe how critical it has been to Google’s growth to get an array of “smart creatives” on board. In particular, they say a few compelling things about diversity: “When you bring them (smart-creatives with different perspectives) together in a work environment, they integrate to create a broader perspective that is priceless.” Schmidt and Rosenberg don’t get into a politically-correct discussion around diversity, they simply say: “Great talent often doesn’t look and act like you.”
For our planning session, the input of smart-creatives with healthcare, information technology, marketing, sales, accounting, social work, fundraising, medical, research, legal, real estate and entrepreneurial backgrounds made the output relevant, insightful and compelling. During the day, I noticed a number of powerful dynamics that reinforce my view:
- On more than one occasion, my assumptions, perspective and conclusions were challenged – to very positive result.
- The first ideas were rarely the best and subsequent discussion yielded many improvements.
- There were those that initiated discussions and then those that followed on with fresh ideas.
- More vocal participants often pushed the conversation but the quiet, smart-creatives targeted great input at perfect moments.
- The staff members “kept it real” by affirming, or dispelling, assumptions board members made about our patients or operations within our clinics.
- Time constraints focused our discussions and time-oriented personalities pushed us to closure.
- Disagreement pulled the group together.
- There was tremendous power in mutual respect. This fostered trust, daring and a safe environment for participation and disagreement. This group valued the differences.
- EVERYONE contributed. EVERYONE got it. EVERYONE owns the result.
Different people. Different backgrounds. Shared purpose. Our collection of smart-creatives (most of whom would not describe themselves with that term) pulled together over a few hours to ask questions, evaluate data, share insights and set direction for an organization serving thousands of homeless and struggling individuals every year. The power in the group was forged in our differences. The results will bloom from what we’ve shared.
Are you leveraging your team’s differences to spark better results in your organization?