In recruiting for Petri Dish 2016 we used three filtering criteria:

  1. People who are leaders in their industry with a proven track record of shipping high quality work. Self driven individuals, of the kind who would use their vacation time to start working on a new project. 
  2. People with a small ego,  who work well in a group and are not judgemental or condescending towards others. The kind of people you just love to both work and hang out with. 
  3. People who will add diversity to the team: culturally, ethnically, professionally and gender wise.

The first two criteria were fairly easy to meet as the sheer project description was a good self screening factor. We set out to search for accomplished people within our personal networks and those who showed interest were mostly open minded, friendly people. It turns out that people who don’t work well in a group tend to volunteer less for group projects.

The third criteria turned out to be a much bigger challenge. We had set the challenging goals of having a 50% female team, participants from at least 7 cultural backgrounds, and at least 10 different professional fields. A lot of effort was put into meeting these requirements. Unfortunately we didn’t manage to reach those goals, but we did come quite close with a 40% female team, participants from 5 cultural backgrounds and 8 different professional fields. What remained to be seen is if this effort would pay off, proving that diversity really is important for good group dynamics. This is not an obvious assumption. Assembling a diverse group is clearly not optimal for every kind of task. Communication may be hampered and productivity reduced or slowed down, conflict and alienation is more likely and fundamental differences in world views, behaviour and beliefs can become troublesome obstacles. 

Unfortunately, without any control groups it’s impossible to say for sure how it would have been if the group was recruited without this criteria. However, with that said the diversity factor seemed to have a tremendous positive impact on the group dynamics in this case. People were extremely curious about each other, to learn from each other and to work together. Even in the off hours, the discussion kept a high level of sophistication as people were more interested to talk about complex subjects than simple matters- perhaps because they didn’t have the same possibility to talk about the simple subjects that they might share with people who are more similar to them.

It is also quite possible that the group worked and communicated very well despite the diversity because they all shared the attributes of criteria 1 and 2. Had they not been nice and open minded people who work on interesting and impressive projects – perhaps the dynamics would have been very different.

In the end, our observation is that these criteria seemed to have proved themselves very well and the recommendation for the next round of Petri Dish is to use the same, but put even more effort to find candidate that match them even better than in Petri Dish 2016.