By Michael Webb, Veracity’s Chief Technology Officer
In my daily work as the leader of Veracity’s Utah-based office, I have myriad responsibilities, but I continually endeavor to cultivate equal intellectual footing among our team.
How would you rate the intellectual atmosphere in your organization? I don’t mean the demographics of educational attainment. I mean how well an organization fosters equal intellectual footing across the board, as opposed to a pecking order of degrees and experience.
Ironically, I learned the productive value of equal intellectual footing while in graduate school, the very place one would expect an intellectual pecking order to exist. I had joined a research group led by an advisor who had done successful research in industry. After arriving at our university, he established a vibrant team, comprising post-docs and students with various amounts of post-undergrad experience. The advisor himself had a Ph.D. and more than 20 years of post-doctoral experience. Every Saturday morning, our group would meet to discuss something important to our research area. Sometimes, our advisor invited an affiliated professor from the department to join our sessions. I wouldn’t have thought it unusual if our Saturday morning sessions had become little more than the advisor holding court, googly-eyed students at his feet in rapt attention.
But nothing was further from the truth. Despite our varying levels of experience and training, our advisor insisted that we each stand on equal intellectual footing. We were expected to share what we had learned, espouse our ideas, and challenge what we didn’t believe, all without fear of put-down or condescension. We knew we were advancing the frontier of our corner of the science world, and the quality of our work was more important than rank, title, or the hurt feelings we sometimes had when our errors were illuminated for all to see.
I took away a Ph.D. from graduate school, but just as rewarding was the major life lesson I continue to abide by all these years hence: when rank, experience, position, and ego don’t enter the calculus of pushing knowledge forward, knowledge will leap, thrive, grow, and abound in all directions. Conversely, knowledge constrained by pecking order often remains just that: constrained within artificial bounds either enforced or contrived by poor leadership.
I encourage people to speak their minds and explain how and why they execute work the way they do. Together, we analyze each other’s work with a constructively critical eye, always placing the quality of the work above rank and personal feelings.
Organizations need structure and defined roles and responsibilities. It is important that all team members knows their role in making the team successful. A culture of equal intellectual footing doesn’t interfere with these roles and responsibilities, nor does it suggest that team members operate outside their lanes of responsibility. The leader’s primary responsibility in this area is to foster a constructive environment where all members speak their mind, knowing that they will be heard with an open mind and will not be filtered based on their rank or experience.
I’m proud of the culture of equal intellectual footing that we have developed at Veracity Forecasting and Analysis. I believe that our team members feel free to express themselves openly and honestly, knowing that their feelings and ideas will receive fair consideration in an open, inclusive environment. Although we have differing levels of experience and different positions and roles, we are intellectually equal. I think this is one aspect of who we are at Veracity that increases our competitive advantage, and makes Veracity a great place to work.