Homogeneous thinking

There is no need for us all to be alike and think the same way, neither do we need a common enemy to force us to come together and reach out to each other.”
Anthon St. Maarten

Over the years, I’ve worked in a few OSS environments where I had the distinct feeling that there was too much homogeneity amongst the team. You could say that it is predictable since OSS can have a tendency to attract a certain type of individual, one that is fascinated with technology, details-oriented, delivery-focussed and audit-minded regardless of the different cultures and backgrounds we all come from.

I once worked with a large OSS organisation that put many of its staff through a personality test known as the Margerison-McCann Team Management Test.

The diagram below shows the Margerison-McCann Team Management Wheel.

According to Margerison and McCann, high performing teams need a balance of all eight sectors.

Interestingly, I was one of only 5 out of 1,000+ within this organisation that had a role preference in the yellow and green sectors (creator-innovator and explorer-promoter) [ie creative], although I should note that I have pink (thruster-organiser) [delivery] characteristics as well.

Of the other 1,000+ tested, a remarkably high percentage (over 95% if I recall correctly) had results in the pink and purple segments of the wheel (thruster-organiser and concluder-producer) [ie delivery focussed]. I don’t have the stats to back it up, but another organisation I worked with actually felt even more homogeneous towards pink/purple characteristics.

There are a few key characteristics of this analysis as I see it:

  1. Being delivery focussed is important in OSS, but OSS are so diverse in nature that our projects and operations teams clearly need representation on all segments of the wheel
  2. The inflection point of change that we’re currently undergoing in ICT and OSS will require more Creator-Innovators than were represented within the organisation in question. To quote Margerison and McCann, “Creator-Innovators are usually people with a strong, intellectual curiosity who will be concerned to design and develop new approaches to problems. They are good at theoretical thinking and like to pursue a wide range of ideas.Their strength often lies in their ability to formulate criteria for problem solving,” so I’m not sure whether any OSS organisation should have less than 1% of this type of personality on their books
  3. In the modern world, there is an increasingly long tail of everything (including ICT and OSS) that requires a long-tail of ideas to support our customers, even if you’re servicing a niche area of OSS. As Seth Godin stated, “The long tail of everything means that there’s something for everyone–a blog to read, a charity to donate to, a skill to learn. When you send everyone the same email, demand everyone learn from the same lesson plan or try to sell everyone the same service, you’ve missed it.”
  4. Homogeneous teams have a tendency towards group think, a psychological phenomenon that causes the team to significantly overrate its own abilities in decision-making and make it blind to collective failures

When considering the members of your OSS teams, where do you think they fit on this personality wheel? Do you feel that you have a collective coverage of all eight segments?


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