On Complementary Strengths

I’ve read and heard many places that most people hire people like themselves. (I mostly hear this in the context of why white men hire more white men, but I’m not touching that here.) I’ve also seen many studies that prove that diversity leads to stronger decision making and a better bottom line.

Anecdotally, I can tell you that the best team I’ve ever built started when I hired people very unlike me in strengths and habits.

Why? Because I have weaknesses. (I’ll give those of you who know me a moment to get up off the ground, since I’m sure you fell off your chairs at that public admission.) I’m very good at big-picture thinking and people management and team-building, but I’m weak at details and physical organization.

So you can imagine that if I built a team out of people just like me, no one would remember to book conference rooms for our meetings, and eventually our work space would be covered with piles of mixed-up papers. However, when I built a team out of people who were great at details but weak at the big picture and people who were physically organized but weaker at human interactions, mixed in a few people who were great at research, and so on, our strengths compensated for each other’s weaknesses.

Building a team out of people with complementary strengths leads to stronger work, but it can also be hilarious, as you find each other’s weaknesses amusing. Being able to laugh with (and occasionally at) each other also builds a better team.