Embrace Team Diversity
Dream Teams

Embrace Team Diversity

Bestseller Shane Snow breaks down how to gather, sustain, motivate and inspire diverse teams to collaborate over the long term.

Journalist Shane Snow – co-founder of Contently, one of Ad Age’s best places to work in the United States – details how groundbreaking ideas often stem from collaboration. But not all teamwork, he explains, is created equal. In this entertaining and informative exploration, Snow guides you through the process of building a dream team that finds the teamwork sweet spot. He emphasizes the power of cognitive diversity in boosting innovation and solving problems. Snow outlines strategies for overcoming friction, conformity and organizational silence, while advocating mutual respect and openness to “bad ideas.” He says team members bond by sharing personal stories that help them appreciate their differences.

Most of Snow’s ideas are neither new nor unique, but his enthusiastic style makes them easy to read and memorable.


Homogenous groups think and work alike and solve problems in a comfortable way. However, complicated, challenging dilemmas require novel approaches that can stem from differing perspectives.

What does ‘fit’ get us but homogenous thinking?…Breakthroughs happen when we break the mold.Shane Snow

Upbringing, social circumstances, education and previous challenges forge individual perspectives, and everyone develops a personal, mental toolkit of strategies – heuristics – to use when problems arise. Demographic differences seem to generate different problem-solving perspectives. Members of diverse teams think more critically, devise more successful strategies and make fewer dumb mistakes.


More than half of corporate mergers result in a loss of value. Snow blames that on cultural conflict – clashing diversity. He suggests ways to find the balance between a homogenous cultural fit and creative cooperation.

The thing that gets teams into The Zone is not peace and harmony and sameness – it’s engaging the tension between their perspectives, heuristics, ideas and differences.Shane Snow

Encourage a variety of views. Each member’s willingness to engage constructively and to tolerate creative conflict fuels the breakthrough successes of great teams.

Playing Together

Human beings view other human beings as either being like themselves – the in-group – or as others, not like themselves – the out-group. People believe the first group is trustworthy, safe and worthy of support and the second not so much.

You can learn more about someone in an hour of play than in a year of talk.Shane Snow

In the context of a game, conflict becomes less threatening since differences become assets and the atmosphere of play modulates aggression. People who play together see each other as part of their team.

Shake It Up

A cognitive entrenchment develops over time, as differing individual heuristics merge into groupthink.

Inviting dissenting voices makes people think more creatively and critically, whether they agree with the opposing view or not. Dissent disrupts confirmation bias and leads to wiser choices.

The Worst Idea

Snow explains that, sometimes, a bad, outrageous or strange idea expands the spectrum of ideas under consideration by staking out an extreme.

Bad ideas open people’s frames of reference and pique their curiosity. Cultivating curiosity among your team members encourages them to explore ideas more broadly. Hearing a bad idea also helps people overcome their reluctance to express their own less awful but unconventional ideas.


When we are on the same page, we tend to see things that prove that we’re right. When we’re not on the same page, we become more likely to see parts of the picture we’ve missed.Shane Snow

Even when extreme or unusual perspectives are obviously wrong, they can provide a spark that leads to a groundbreaking solution.

A Superordinate Goal

Your cognitively diverse team can develop constructive friction, interact playfully and remain open to crazy perspectives. To motivate them to stay together, commit them to pursuing a superordinate goal – a shared result they want more than any other outcome.

Shared superordinate goals hold teams together only if they don’t achieve those goals. For a team to stay together project after project, the members must share values and beliefs. The members of cognitively diverse teams must practice – and value – mutual respect.

This allows the team to form a superordinate group identity that incorporates and celebrates individual differences, creates psychological safety and builds trust in each member’s good intentions.

Open-Minded People

Teamwork, Snow notes, requires open-mindedness. Receptiveness to new ideas and to re-evaluating your own opinions demands intellectual humility – awareness that you can be wrong. Open-mindedness correlates with the ability to evaluate a debate dispassionately, curiosity and a lack of ideological rigidity.

The key to intellectual humility is increasing the cognitive diversity inside our own heads.Shane Snow

Exposure to varied cultures makes people more multicultural by exposing them to differences in speaking, thinking and living. For instance, experiences in other countries correlate with increased intellectual humility.


Snow echoes most business books by reminding you that character-driven stories unlock empathy. Like many other books, his text explains that when you identify with someone’s experiences, your brain produces the bonding neurochemical oxytocin; this strengthens interpersonal connections. So, encourage your team members to share stories.

People are more willing to do something scary – such as reverse a long-held belief about something they consider important – if they feel empathy toward the person trying to persuade them. Shane Snow

Snow urges you to read to increase your intellectual humility and become more accepting, generous and compassionate.

Foundational Conditions

To nurture sound collaboration, you need a stable group of people working on a project that demands cooperation; a meaningful, substantive goal; useful clear roles for each team member; and access to information, support, experts and coaches.

Collaboration thrives when each person assumes that the other team members are acting with positive intent. For smooth working relationships, embrace a respectful interpretation of perspectives and approaches that aren’t like yours.

An Easy Read

Much of Snow’s points prove somewhat unoriginal. They mirror platitudes about teams found in pretty much every book on the subject, but his tone and enthusiasm set him apart. Snow’s audience is likely beginning executives, leaders of new start-ups, managers unused to diversity who are trying to learn to embrace it and – most likely – business students who have not yet led teams in the real world. Snow is a lively, conversational and unpretentious writer, so scanning this text to pick up main points you haven’t heard before doesn’t require great effort. And, however oft-cited, every one of Snow’s insights about teams is accurate, helpful and productive.

Shane Snow also wrote Smartcuts, and he co-authored The Storytelling Edge with Joe Lazauskas. Other books on teams include Patrick Lencioni’s The Five Dysfunctions of a Team and StrengthsFinder 2.0 by Tom Rath.

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