Wed Apr 14 2021 Michael McQueen

Future-proof teams are ones that can confidently walk into tomorrow, knowing that they have prepared for what is next. The future of our work is demanding greater levels of innovation, creativity and original thinking than it ever has before. In order to maintain the forward thinking that tomorrow requires, our teams need to have the people and structures in place today.

Teams that have the best chances of being prepared for what is coming will be the ones that collaborate with 3 kinds of members. These are:

1. The diverse human.

A colleague of mine repeatedly tells his clients: ‘Don’t hire someone like you — you already know what you think.’ He’s right.

Underscoring the importance of diversity, a McKinsey & Company study of 366 public companies worldwide found a statistically significant relationship between companies with women and minorities in their upper ranks and better financial performance. Businesses with the most gender-diverse leadership were 15% more likely to report financial returns above their industry average, and an even more striking link was found between business success and ethnic diversity.[1]

Diversity is undoubtedly essential. However, this diversity is superfluous without dissent. While every leader should aim to build a cohesive culture in their team or organisation, something dangerous occurs when a culture goes from being cohesive to being conformist. By the same token, team alignment is a wonderful thing — but perfect alignment forbids divergent thinking.

Peter Drucker went as far as to say that good decisions are always a function of dissenting views being encouraged and heard. ‘The first rule in decision-making’, he suggested, ‘is that one does not make a decision unless there is disagreement.’[2] Naturally, for such an approach to work, a culture has to be created where junior members of staff feel safe and encouraged to ‘speak truth to power’.[3] Leaders must ensure that those who hold radically different views are encouraged rather than ignored, shunned or persecuted.

Teams that encourage dissent have the greatest chance of identifying threats, opportunities and trends before they arrive, as they benefit from the critical and creative perspectives of their diverse members.

2. The whole human.

Up until now, the standard practice of a work-life balance involved leaving behind personal life as soon as you entered the office. However, as the rise of automation is demanding more human-ness from human workers and innovation is demanding more creativity and original thought than ever, it is becoming increasingly clear that business benefits from a human’s whole self.

In his book, Hacker Culture and the New Rules of Innovation, Timothy Rayner unpacks how bringing the whole self to work benefits a business’s culture of innovation. In hacker culture, practices and habits which encourage emotional investment, authentic sharing and generous collaboration are utilised. While it may sound futile to some, practices like sharing circles are used every morning where team members openly share struggles and wins from their personal lives, empowering a culture of understanding and trust throughout the rest of the day.

Furthermore, in such environments a ‘pay-it-forward’ culture is fostered, whereby employees habitually share their knowledge for the benefit of the team, viewing their ideas as gifts to be generously offered to the collective effort. As they are encouraged to bring their whole self to work, any abilities or knowledge from their personal lives that would otherwise be overlooked as irrelevant, become unique assets for the team. Divergent thinking is enabled and the team is able to utilise the unique intersection of its team members skills, knowledge and interests.

The innovative benefits of diversity and dissent depend on the team’s willingness to share their whole selves with their team. The psychological safety created by practices such as these is the essential ingredient for a thriving team. A team that trusts is a team that shares, and the resulting collaboration will have an innovative edge that is totally unique.

3. Beyond the human.

This growing need for human-ness at work grows alongside the technology that is continuously finding its way into our work. As much as we need to collaborate better with humans, we also need to collaborate better with technology.

In the last year, technology like Zoom has proved how fundamental our need to work with technology really is. Also in the last year, augmented reality has proved to be a productive tool to work with, with companies like Intel facing travel restrictions in their collaborative projects. When one of their top engineers could not fly in to solve a pressing manufacturing issue, he simply donned some AR goggles and examined the issue close up, providing repair instructions remotely.[4] Volkswagen did the same in its repair processes when experts were stranded, using AR to bring the expert, technician and issue together.

While these are more subtle examples of humans working alongside technology, there is one technological innovation in particular that epitomises the idea. ‘Cobots’ are collaborative robots: robots that work alongside humans in the mundane tasks of daily work. In many work environments, total automation does not grant the flexibility required for effective processes, but robots who can work with the human members of the team bypass this issue and provide the best of both worlds.[5]

Future-proof teams will be ones that are able to stay ahead of the curve, identify the tides and trends and move accordingly. In order to do this, diversity of perspectives and team members in a collaborative and technologically integrated culture will be among the key ingredients of a highly successful team.

The irony of these future proof teams is that while they look more technological than ever, they also look more human than ever. As teams foster a culture in which members bring their whole selves to work, they benefit from the inherent humanness of their people – diversity, creativity, critical thinking. However, teams that overlook the collaborative technology that we are now able to work with do so at their peril. Collaboration which fully involves both cutting-edge technology and authentic humans is undoubtedly the collaboration that will lead us into the future.


Michael McQueen is a trends forecaster, business strategist and award-winning conference speaker.

He features regularly as a commentator on TV and radio and is a bestselling author of 8 books. To order Michael's latest book "The Case for Character", click here.

To see Michael speaking live, click here and for more information on Michael's speaking topics,


[1] Lublin, J. 2015, ‘Study Links Diverse Leadership With Firms’ Financial Gains’, The Wall Street Journal, 20 January.

[2] Ibid., p. 233.

[3] Ibid., p. 236.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Malik, A 2019, ‘Meet the cobots: the robots who will be your colleagues, not your replacements,’ The Conversation,  28 October.