Key factors to consider when building a high performing team?

How can we avoid the pitfalls associated with the creation of echo chambers What can we learn from Southgate’s approach to diversity?

In our latest blog, we address the issues surrounding the topic of affinity bias and how by taking a leaf out of Gareth’s book, we can work towards building a high-performing tax team. With thanks to Karl Berlin, Head of Tax at Ørsted for sharing his thoughts on the topic.

Affinity bias

When you’re assembling a team, what traits should you look for? Our natural tendency is to pick those who ultimately resemble ourselves.  It’s clear we all have a propensity for affinity bias, selecting those whom we feel we can relate to will slide seamlessly into the prevailing corporate culture.

Gareth Southgate’s decision to bring non-football experts onto the FA Advisory Board was controversial, but it paid dividends in the recent Euros. So, what can we learn from Southgate’s approach to diversity?

Building echo chambers

If there is one universal truth about human psychology, it is that we love being surrounded by people who think just like us. All humans are influenced by homophily, aka ‘love of the same’; it means that we tend to feel more affinity with people who share our characteristics, for example, age, gender and ethnicity.

Homophily explains a lot about why senior teams often resemble a clone squad, even when chosen by very knowledgeable and open-minded people. The tech industry was impacted by this problem in its earlier days – innovation was slow given most hires had similar backgrounds and attended a handful of universities, where they were taught by a restricted group of professors using the same teaching models. Where were the fresh ideas supposed to come from?

The last few decades in English football followed this pattern. The most experienced, skilled football experts were chosen to advise the England coach. Each expert was thoroughly qualified for the job, but the problem was that they all resembled each other. They had absorbed the same ideas about the best way to approach tactics, training, recovery and so on

Southgate: Breaking the mould

Southgate’s decision to put non-football people on the FA Technical Advisory Board prompted a lot of criticism in the football world. Members included: Sir Dave Brailsford, a cycling coach; Colonel Lucy Giles, a Sandhurst Military Academy College Commander; Dame Kath Grainger, an Olympic rower; Manoj Badale, a tech entrepreneur; Stuart Lancaster, a rugby coach; and David Sheepshanks, who set up St Georges’ Park national football centre.

What could non-footballers possibly have to teach those at the pinnacle of the game? The answer is: a great deal. As Southgate says: “I like listening to people who know things I don’t. That’s how you learn.”

The broad range of perspectives means that the advisory board is better placed to question some of the assumptions held by those who live and breathe the game. This is an embrace of divergent as opposed to convergent thinking – bringing together different viewpoints rather than building a team based on consensus about best practice.

How can Southgate’s approach positively impact our hiring process?

The England coach who brought us within a whisker of winning the Euros earlier this summer can be an inspiration for us all. (i) How are we identifying and engaging new talent? (ii) Are we questioning conventional thoughts patterns when it comes to the backgrounds and experiences of those under consideration? Inject a little fresh thinking – update outdated recruitment practices, alter how you put together your selection panel and importantly be aware of the harmful impact of echo chambers.

Organisations that fail to let the winds of change blow in can eventually find they have become obsolete; think of Blockbuster believing streaming wouldn’t catch on, or Kodak overlooking the growth of digital photography.

“Our goal as an in-house tax department is to help the company achieves its vision of creating a world running entirely on green energy. We do that by ensuring sustainable tax positions and effective deployment of capital. We can only achieve that goal if we’re able to attract and retain the best talent, bringing different perspectives to how we meet the challenges of an ever-changing tax landscape.”

Karl Berlin, Head of Tax at Ørsted

Building a diverse team doesn’t mean individuals shouldn’t be qualified, or that you should bring someone in just for the sake of mixing things up or to appease stakeholders or quotas. There are many times when a store of knowledge and expertise about the conventional approach is exactly what you need. However, throwing the net wider can lead to greater innovation, insight and success.

Ahead of your next hiring process, why not emulate Southgate and ask yourself: does this person know things I don’t?

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