What does team resourcing and cloning have in common? Since working in a resourcing function for over a year, I’ve seen countless times the person someone wants to work on a project isn’t available. And the typical response: “I wish we could clone them.” Although this comment is made in jest, it made me realise how we all like to work with like-minded people, who we enjoy working with and already know they have the skills and experience needed to do a good job. There is nothing wrong with this mindset in principle; it’s worked in the past, so why can’t it carry on working in the future? In my view this isn’t sustainable, not only because we don’t have a bottomless pit of the same types of people, but also because there is lots of evidence to show that we should be working with people who don’t like working together, who don’t understand each other and don’t have the obvious skills and experience needed to do the job well. This might sound counterintuitive, but now is the time for all organisations, such as PR agencies made up of lots of different teams, to think about diversity of teams more than ever before, to differentiate themselves and ultimately produce the best work.

The current recruitment challenge in PR and potential for one in five to move jobs in the next six months, could be the catalyst to force organisations to think more creatively about the people they hire and how they market themselves to attract different types of people.  

In Matthew Syed’s book ‘Rebel Ideas’, he discusses the importance of diversity in how teams are put together, to enable us to do better work and solve problems in new ways. It struck a chord with me about how effective it can be bringing together experts from a range of backgrounds to help solve a problem. Even if they have no experience in that field, a diverse group can offer greater collective intelligence, give clients a new perspective and help see things in a way that hadn’t been considered before.

An example is how Gareth Southgate controversially bought together people from outside football – e.g., rugby and Matthew Syed himself from the world of table tennis – to help advise how England football players should approach their game to feel and be seen to be more professional and respected. In a sport traditionally tainted by scandal on and off the pitch, Southgate took advice from his range of experts, and focused his leadership on emotional intelligence and empathy, getting to know all the players individually to understand and provide support, creating a culture of candour and a shared feeling of togetherness and respect. The New Stateman commented: “Almost without exception, they are a wholesome, decent and modest bunch, down to earth and largely untainted by scandals or misconduct. There are no big egos, no “stars” that eclipse the rest, with Harry Kane, the captain, merely the first among equals.”

Building more diversity into organisations isn’t a new thing. It has been a focus at Edelman for many years now, with multiple initiatives designed to broaden the types of people it recruits, from its Open programme for entry-level applicants, which is open to anyone from school age, to bringing in people from organisations such as 10,000 Black Interns and the Taylor Bennett Foundation and delivering a range of training such as unconscious bias training for those involved in recruiting. This is just the beginning, but in my role, embracing diversity is about pushing back and recommending different people – both internally and externally – who can offer new insights and help coach and upskill others to approach projects and solve communications problems in new ways.  

In this way, my rationale for creating high performing teams is to have diversity at the core, but for this to be accepted and sustained – taking another leaf out of Gareth Southgate’s book – there must be a culture of candour. This means having an open and transparent culture where individuals can feel safe to admit if they’ve made a mistake (something Matthew Syed also highlights in the differences between how the NHS and the airline industry learn from mistakes, in his book Blackbox Thinking). Information is shared openly and honestly across the whole team, and junior people or those from different backgrounds feel they can openly challenge a decision made, without being criticised. This means that everyone has a vested interest in the team’s success and feels they all have an important contribution to make. High-performing teams should also contain the following:

  • Fair workload: everyone must have a manageable workload in order to focus and perform as part of the team, with a culture of candour enabling them to clearly communicate other work or personal pressures affecting their time or ability to perform. Also, where people come from different backgrounds and experience levels, an understanding that certain tasks may take longer or be approached in a different way, which could change how work is distributed across the team.
  • Strong leadership: each project requires a different type of leadership depending on the nature of the work, experience in the team and clarity of the overall goal, however every project lead should ensure there are clear objectives set from the outset, clear roles and responsibilities of each team member and the culture of candour to openly discuss and challenge how the project is being run.
  • Career-changing work; finally, each project should allow each team member the opportunity to try something new, be challenged and learn a new skill, whether that is through coaching, training or testing new ideas or new ways of doing things with the client. This is where diversity and a culture of candour are key to bring together and discuss new ideas and approaches to solve problems, pushing the boundaries and challenging clients to think differently.

I don’t expect the cloning jokes to disappear completely – sometimes the person requested for a role on a project who has worked on a similar project before, would be the perfect solution, but I hope people will start thinking more broadly and openly about those with what might seem irrelevant skills and experience, and experiment with dividing roles on projects in new ways. With a culture of candour and allowing time for coaching, I believe this is how we will find new solutions for age-old problems and help take people’s careers in new directions.