Building teams through difference

“Talent perceives differences, Genius unity.”— W.B. Yeats

Let’s not care so much about talent and genius — what they are is immaterial for our purposes, and in fact may hinder the development of this discussion. Instead, let us focus on the concept of difference and unity, and how there is unity to be found in difference. Sound paradoxical? Stay with me. You’ll understand what I mean in bit.

Let’s begin with a quick anecdote (very contextualised, so if you’re not from Singapore, I apologise, and you may just want to skip this paragraph). Just the other day, I was walking around the Serangoon area, Serangoon Gardens to be specific. I forget the reason behind why I was there. But the thing is, I found out that it is possible for one to walk from Serangoon Gardens to Serangoon North in less than 10 minutes. It seemed quite baffling initially, especially since I normally would have taken a bus to travel from one area to the next, and would consider them quite a distance apart, since it’s 10 to 15 minutes by bus, which would seem to imply that walking would require a substantially longer time to cover that same distance. And this obviously was not the case.

So what is the point I am trying to make here? Well, firstly, perhaps it is due to the convenience offered by transportation, by cars, buses, trains, that we have lost our ability to recognise how a plot of land, while seemingly divided by buildings, by fences, by whatever other kind of impediment thinkable, is still a united entity, and there are ways to overcome these obstacles, for instance by travelling through an obscure alleyway (thankfully Singapore is relatively safe in this aspect).

Secondly, people are in a way similar. There are people who we never seem to be able to ‘click’ with, regardless of how hard we try, how much effort we put into the relationship. However, that does not mean that these differences have to be crippling to a team. If anything, these differences are likely to augment team discussion, and provide greater depth to whatever plans may be had. Think Belbin. He found that people have different roles they are suited for in a team, and that having a combination of all the different roles is what ultimately determines the success of the team.

In a similar manner, meeting people who we cannot see eye to eye with and interacting with them is not necessarily a bad thing. In fact, all it takes is a little bit of patience and an open mind, to accept their point of view, or at least think about it if we cannot comprehend it. More often than not, we will find that their points are valid in their own right, and may even give us new ideas, new thoughts, which spur us creatively.

So whenever you find yourself in a pickle, especially where it involves you and another person, with whom you cannot choose to agree but to disagree, instead of thinking war, think unity, in diversity.