When Swiss luxury brand TAG Heuer launched in India in 2003, Manishi Sanwal, TAG Heuer’s then Delhi-based brand manager, was careful about picking the right team. Sanwal, who is now based in Mumbai as managing director, DFS India (a Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton or LVMH company), recalls: “We hired guys from different industries, like the paints industry. We were keen to include a woman in the team too because women have a far better artistic sense and visual sense. You need diversity in the team.”
Having a diverse team contributed to the success of the TAG Heuer launch, says Sanwal—the Swiss luxury brand doubled revenue for the first three years, and continues to grow.
For digital media entertainment firm Hungama Digital Entertainment Pvt. Ltd, the products and services couldn’t have been more different, but the idea of putting together a diverse team was the same. Mumbai-based Neeraj Roy, CEO and managing director, set up shop in 1999 by hiring people he believed had an entrepreneurial streak. “We were a young start-up and we looked for people with exuberance who were self-driven,” says Roy of those early days when Hungama was just beginning to create a business in the nascent digital media space.
But having acquired the marketers, the mavericks and the entrepreneurs, Roy began to feel the need for a different kind of team member—someone who had work experience at a conventional company with well-defined processes and practices. “We had grown to a certain size ourselves when I realized that processes were best imbibed from large organizations which have gone through their own evolution. That’s why, when we needed a chief technology officer (CTO), I decided to look for someone who was more grounded and who would bring processes.”
By 2012, over a decade after it began, the Hungama team had grown in terms of working across different verticals like gaming and music, extending from cellphones to television sets. So Hungama’s final choice was a candidate with work experience from Motorola, to help manage and organize that growth.
"Diverse teams provide a mutual learning environment even though they require more active management."
For organizations, whether it’s about marketing, creative strategy or managing a project, selecting the perfect team is crucial to success. Here are a few tips if you want a dream team on your side.
Dig deep for diversity
Think of diversity like an onion, says Leigh Thompson, author, Creative Conspiracy: The New Rules of Breakthrough Collaboration, from the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University, Illinois, US. “On the outside of the onion are superficial characteristics, such as dress and appearance; the next layer is composed of characteristics such as race or ethnicity; deeper inside are education and values; and even deeper inside are fundamental personality characteristics and individual traits. It is more impactful to diversify at deeper levels. However, even superficial diversity (for example, demographic and ethnic background) may improve creativity,” she says in an email interview. So you need diversity at different levels.
There may be conflict in such teams, but they are likely to be more creative. Companies recognize this, and sometimes even actively encourage conflict in teams.
At consumer company Hindustan Unilever (HUL), for instance, members of a team may play different roles. Explains Hemant Bakshi, executive director, home and personal care, at HUL, Mumbai: “At times within our teams, we look at the different ways of approaching the problem. One person plays the role of an idea generator, never mind how this idea will be implemented, another is the devil’s advocate who will say why the idea won’t work, whereas a third person has the role to actually figure how to land this idea/project in the marketplace.”
“Diverse teams provide a mutual learning environment even though they require more active management; the more diverse your team, the more you have to be capable of getting a sense of unity,” says Gianpiero Petriglieri, associate professor of organizational behaviour at the Insead business school, in a phone interview from Fontainebleau, France.
Mix of work styles
People have different work styles; for every market-driven extrovert, there’s a cautious finance person who will check the numbers. So any good team needs a mix of these work styles. Bakshi recalls a successful project team at HUL that he was a part of. The team had been set up to look at the possibilities of e-commerce and had a mix of managers. “There were the creative marketing types who were the customer interface, the finance guy who kept our feet on the ground and the typically nerdy tech guy who could tell us what was possible or not with the Internet,” he says. Roy recalls that when he started to put together a team for Hungama, this was one of the key factors in selecting people. “We had to look for people with the ability to develop growth in business and we also had to look for people with financial acumen; if you don’t have someone who can manage cash flows, then a business will suffer,” he says.
Pick favourites early
Finally, and controversially, bosses should pick favourites in their team for better performance, says a recent study from the University of British Columbia’s Sauder School of Business, Vancouver, Canada. There may be ethical satisfaction in treating everyone in the team equally, but pick favourites if you want better-performing teams, says Prof. Karl Aquino, co-author of a forthcoming study for the Journal of Business Ethics. Group members are more likely to feel proud, determined and inspired if they are treated better than the general group. Experiments conducted with different groups have shown that favourites are more productive. They became more likely to volunteer for tasks that benefit the entire group. The teams with favourites end up performing better than those in which everyone is treated equally well.