Humans vs bots – Want your Human team to gain the competitive edge over the best of the bots?

We’ve all seen the headlines. The bots are coming for our jobs.

In recent research*, the skills managers reported they need in the next 5 years significantly underestimate the importance of people. But people skills are exactly what we need to differentiate ourselves from AI. The top 3 skills the managers reported needing were:

1. Digital and technological expertise (42%)

2. Creative thinking and experimentation (33%)

3. Data analysis and interpretation (31%)

And the people skills came in at 6th place.

The thing that sets us apart as humans is that we have vast capacities to be creative and experiment – but this stops when we’re in an environment where we don’t feel safe or valued.

It’s easier to feel safe when we’re surrounded by people like us but this isn’t where the strongest teams operate and it isn’t where the best ideas come from.

So flip that, surround yourself with a diverse team – some reflective people, some who drive the agenda, some who have creative flair, some who pay attention to the practical details. This is when interpersonal problems arise because opposing styles trigger fear in us. We don’t understand them.

The paradox is that these differences are exactly what you need for creativity, agility and innovation.

So as a leader, how do you maximise the full potential of your team? How can you be stronger as a team than you are apart?

Leaders we talk to know that this is what they want to achieve but don’t know how to go about it. They want the business to grow and evolve but fear losing their original vision and entrepreneurial edge.

A critical way to embrace this paradox and benefit from it is to fully understand each member of your team – what their strengths are, what energises them, what frustrates them – developing their ability to talk about this in an open and conscious way, growing mutual appreciation for what each person brings.

This process enables the team to establish conscious team “norms” – norms are habits or codes of behaviour that become the accepted way to do things. All teams have norms but they’re usually unconscious and aren’t always helpful for creating the safety for brilliance.

Sometimes an agreed norm can be as simple as allowing everybody the chance at the start of a meeting to say how they’re feeling and what’s going on, or it might be agreeing to co-create agendas in advance. Whatever your agreed norms, the part which often gets lost is the continued practice of them. The norms slip from the helpful and conscious back to the unhelpful and nonconscious, especially when the pressure’s on, and the team’s success slips with it. Regular team reviews are essential.

Our top tips for establishing helpful and conscious team norms:

1. Everybody inputs into what’s working and what’s not

2. Agree norms that address what’s not working

3. Each member takes responsibility for maintaining them

4. Regularly check how they’re working

5. Celebrate the successes that come from them

6. Adjust them if you’ve experimented and they’re not working

Do this in your team and you’ll maintain your competitive edge over the best bots in town!


Zoe and Helen work with top teams and see the tension between having a diverse team and maximising those differences. Get in touch to learn more:


*(Accenture Survey reported in HBR Mar/Apr 17)

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