What two-year old twins and ice skating taught me about perspective

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I was recently catching up with two friends I hadn’t seen in a while. One began telling us a story about her twins (boy and girl) who were two at the time. One night, while her husband was traveling, she heard some strange noises at 11:30pm. She went into her twin’s bedroom and the noises grew louder. She found them in their bathroom squealing with laughter. Her son was holding a huge bottle of hand lotion, had it upside down and was shaking it on the floor. Her daughter was sliding across the floor that was already covered in lotion. Both kids were covered in lotion. It clung to their fingers, their eyelashes, the curls in their hair, and was smeared across their face.

Look mommy!” her daughter exclaimed! “We’re ice skating!

My friend stood there in shock, not believing she was seeing what she was seeing. As she was recounting the story, you could hear the fatigue in her voice. How late it was at night and she was already exhausted from a long day. How she had to be up early for meetings. How her husband wasn’t home, and it was up to her to fix this. How she now had to not only give her kids a bath because they were covered in hand lotion, but because she also had to get this filmy lotion off the floor.

As she is telling the story, my other friend is smiling and nodding her head, and saying “That is so incredible!” We both looked at her in surprise and she continued. “They have a built-in friend. They have each other to have fun with. One child wouldn’t have as much fun as they do together. That is so great that they have each other! I wish my kids had a twin – that is such an incredible gift! They have a partner in life that so few people get to experience.”

I stood between then watching the two perspectives. The first friend who, in hindsight could see the humor, but in the moment, was frustrated and didn’t consider it a favorite parenting moment. And the second friend, who saw the situation completely different. The celebration of how special childhood would be for this brother and sister because they have each other – and what an awesome gift that was. Same situation, completely different perspectives based on their roles. Both were valid, and both were unique. It got me to thinking about differing perspectives on teams. How two people can look at a situation from completely different angles and reach very difficult conclusions.

Research validates the best teams have diverse perspectives. This difference in thinking allows for constructive conflict – healthy debate that allows teams to come up with stronger solutions. When everyone has the same perspective, there isn’t much discussion or idea challenging to broaden thinking. Diverse teams are more creative and innovative, have healthy debate and gain more adaptive thinking. This healthy friction allows for greater consideration of things to test. 

It isn’t enough for a leader to assemble a diverse team. The key is to cultivate the right atmosphere for diverse teams to share their differing perspectives and engage in constructive conflict. 

  • Give everyone a voice: often in meetings, extroverts tend to dominate perspectives because they are the first to speak. Design your meetings so each person can weigh in with their perspective. Either present a problem before the meeting and request input in advance, ask everyone to write down their answer before responding in the meeting or call upon each person during the meeting.

  • Challenge perspectives: the military, journalists and even teams bidding on contracts have long used the practice of a “Red Team Review.” These assemble a team of people external to the team who ask challenging questions, poke holes and find weaknesses in the perspective and points of view. This isn’t done in every meeting, but at key milestones to help improve effectiveness. Another approach is to ask, “if we were going to disagree with this approach, what would that disagreement look like?

  • Ask polarizing questions: One of my favorite things to ask teams are questions that expand and limit their thinking. “What would you do if you only had one dollar? What would you do if you had unlimited funds?” Interestingly, the ‘one dollar’ question results in more creativity and differing perspectives than the unlimited one.

  • Tell individuals to listen as though they are wrong: Perhaps the single easiest thing a leader can do to cultivate differing perspectives is to ask people to take on a different one. I recently heard a facilitator coach someone in a session “Listen as though you are wrong. Take on the perspective that your point of view is incorrect. Because you will then listen to the other person differently.”

  • Build in reflection time into each meeting: Because of our bias to action, we move from one activity to the next and miss the opportunity to reflect on insights. Build regular time into team meetings and ask, “What have you learned?” about calls, meetings, outcomes, from the previous week(s). Creating this as a regular practice will allow people to share differing perspectives and offer others feedback on what resonated and what they would like different going forward.

How do you leverage differing perspectives on your teams?