Product Possible - Pick Your Team Members Thoughtfully

People create art, they write books, and invent things, But when a product is complex, large, or spans multiple organizations, it takes a team to create it.

What is a team? It’s an interdependent group of people who unite around a goal such as winning a game,, or creating a product.

To create teams, many leaders start by simply selecting a group of specialists. They then provide a process framework to provide guidance for how the team will design and build the product. The team then goes on their forming, storming, norming, and performing journey and follows the process. When they succeed, a valuable product is generated. However, sometimes they create impossible products.

An Impossible Product: The Penrose Triangle

An Impossible Product: The Penrose Triangle

This Mind Cannot Connect Dots..or Thoughts

This Mind Cannot Connect Dots..or Thoughts

Groupthink is a pattern of thought characterized by self-deception, forced manufacture of consent, and conformity to group values and ethics.

Groupthink happens when a team is missing an important piece of its collective mind. It is missing a moderator. It is missing the human mechanism that connects the “what” defined by a product owner into a “how” (a design) that produces the product outcome. In a team where conformity to group process is valued over outcome, a moderator does not fit in. So the team proceeds without moderation. How do you know when this is occurring? Simple - when the team reports progress in terms of process metrics instead of product completion. For example, They proudly state - “We have reached record velocity” but have not produced any value.

Just like the Penrose triangle shown here, the product’s corners look great, but when observed as a whole, they don’t fit together or the market does not want them. . So what went wrong? The thought processes formed by the team after they started performing still did not create the right outcome. Could something have been defined wrong in the teams’ original composition? Why did the thinking go off-track?

It developed groupthink.

Product Possible

Product Possible

How do we fix this? We make sure our team has a correctly balanced proportion of different types of thinkers in the correct specialized disciplines. And some thinkers that connect and balance the specialized opinions. What does this mean? It means we understand, appreciate and value different ways of thinking.

Different Ways of Thinking

In the world, we find lots of varieties of thinking processes. At a high-level, three key categories are Specialists, Generalists and Polymaths.

  • Specialists knows a lot about a single discipline or practice. And they know this to the exclusion of other things. They devote their lives to collecting information that fits neatly into one category alone and operating in that manner in all facets of their lives

  • Generalists (or Scanners) like the process of exploration of new things. They like to explore everything. They may try out many different sub-specialties (such as a UX and Java developer), and they “refuse to choose”.

  • Polymaths (or Connectors) are people whose expertise spans multiple disparate disciplines at the level of mastery. They have an intense curiosity about many things just like a scanner does. However, they typically act on connecting the disciplines in multiple ways throughout their lives. They see the patterns across disciplines and use them to match an idea to a previously known idea.

The One-Way Mirror.  A Polymath Looking at a Monomath will see a monomath. A monomath looking at a polymath will see itself.

The One-Way Mirror. A Polymath Looking at a Monomath will see a monomath. A monomath looking at a polymath will see itself.

Because of the way thought patterns vary, people can’t always communicate perfectly. Two deep specialists in different areas will have difficulty communicating. Likewise, a deep specialist cannot understand the thought processes that a polymath possesses. Neither can a shallow generalist. A polymath looks through a one-way mirror and sees a monomath. A monomath looks back and sees its own reflection. This makes it hard for certain types of thinkers to be able to effectively construct teams.

Four steps to product team member selection.

  1. Pick a person to pick the team. Because of the one-way mirror effect, this person needs to either be a polymath, or appreciate their benefits that polymathic thinking processes can provide to a team.

  2. Pick a team comprised of all the right specialized skills needed to do the job

  3. Pick a team with one or more polymaths that connect between the disciplines to participate on the team

  4. Make sure the team is prepared with adequate human resource support for the forming, storming, norming and performing stages

Then let them go - using any combination of product development delivery methodology that your organization sees fit. Traditional waterfall, Agile, hybrid, SaFE, Grows method can all be successful.