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The Essential Misfit

Updated: Sep 20, 2022

When visiting factories in Japan in the 1980s, I noticed that in every meeting there was always an individual who never participated in the meetings. He just sat there listening attentively, taking notes.

Later I learnt that the person's role was to simply observe and provide critical feedback to the team on the dynamics of the meeting based on verbal and non verbal interactions of participants. The person usually did not even have expertise nor great knowledge of the subject being discussed. His role was to provide objective analysis looking in from the outside.

Experience is not what happens to us, but what we learn from what happens to us.

We borrowed a leaf from this approach and deployed a variation of this theme, in our organisation where we had a fair share of meetings. I always chose to bring in someone not from any of the involved departments or functions to join the meeting.

With no participative role, the person was an obvious misfit, somewhat like a fly in the soup.

An obvious misfit but essential for great group dynamics. The individual asked to join the meeting would usually grumble that I had pulled them into meetings for which they were neither suited nor able to contribute. The management was wasting their time testing their patience and distracting them from accomplishing their own assignments.

Not being direct stakeholders in the proceedings nor the outcomes of the meetings the misfit individual could maintain a high degree of objectivity.

So upon debriefing the misfit after the meeting the misfit was usually able to provide a candid opinion to me.

Three great benefits were achieved by adopting this approach.

First, to obtain an objective and holistic assessment of the deliberations and group dynamics and pick up cues of the undercurrents, concerns, strengths, etc..

Second, we were able to test the observational, and analytical abilities of the misfit. This is essential for identifying future team leaders, particularly cross-functional ones.

Third, to discover aspects and analysis from a completely unconventional angle.

The results were often surprising even staggering whilst also strengthening leadership development within the organisation.

It is a fact, that 90% of all inventions and innovations have been initiated and pioneered by individuals endeavouring outside their professions and traditional knowledge or skill domains.

Thus reconfirming my view that "One has to step out to look within."


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