How to Build Amazing Teams with Diversity
article by Jodi Wehling
Super Bowl weekend is here! We’ll all cheer on our favorite team, eat munchies, and enjoy new and unusual commercials! However, let’s not get ahead of ourselves; it’s not the weekend quite yet, so instead we’ll think about it from a business perspective.
The best of the best competing for the ability to say they are number one highlights what is accomplished when a group of people focus on a common goal. When mulling over what makes a great team the first word that pops into my mind is “diversity”.
I’m thinking about diversity in the traditional sense of gender, age, race, nationality, disability, etc. and also individual diversity. Individuals even within a single gender, age, race, etc. each have different ways of looking at the world, solving problems, and interacting with others. Creating a group of individuals with diverse skill sets is more useful than a group with the same strengths.
Diversity brings great value to a group through the variety of ideas that can be generated. This is why the tried and true saying “two heads are better than one” has been around so long.
That stirs the question: if diversity is so valuable, why is it frequently hard for groups to succeed?
Challenges of Diversity
I was in a meeting when something struck me. Although we all had a common vision for a successful organization, each person believed a completely different path would get us there. I noticed the following things affecting the ability of the team to get work done.
- Personal Stories: Each person’s history creates their unique point of view. This impacts how we each perceive what is happening in the moment.
- Fears: Concerns, either conscious or unconscious, about how the issues on the table affect each person dramatically impact behavior.
- Thinking & Communication Styles: Some folks want to talk things out to the nth degree, some want to cut the conversation short and move quickly to the next item.
- Motivation: The reason each person is at the meeting and what’s in it for them.
- Personality Characteristics: Individual patterns of behavior, temperament, and emotion.
It’s amazing that from a DNA perspective every human is 99.9% the same. But the differences are what gets most of our attention when we are trying to work together!
At the same time that variations create a richer dialogue and a better end result, they can create negative group dynamics which can hold a team back from moving forward.
How do we manage this so as to tap into the power of diversity?
You Can Overcome the Challenges
We all know we can’t control other people. But you can influence others and work together effectively. The goal is to reduce unproductive group behaviors such as excessive arguing, unnecessarily lengthy meetings, inability to reach decisions, and projects that extend beyond their timelines.
The best way to begin to manage diversity in groups that is causing more conflict than collaboration is to acknowledge that there is an issue. If everyone can agree that the group is not working in the optimal fashion, and that they want to invest time to improve, you’re on your way to group health!
After the elephant in the room is named, the work of changing the situation can begin. Conversations that facilitate learning about the life experiences of each person in the group are very effective and connect individuals on a deep level. This can be done one-on-one, in small groups, and as a whole group.
Exercises that allow individuals to express appreciation for the unique talents each person brings to the team moves people from understanding each other to valuing their role on the team. Group activities like this are essential parts of tapping into the best in each person and ensuring they are engaged in the work.
Once this level of understanding and respect is achieved, the group can begin to build processes for meetings and work that support hearing and considering a variety of ideas and opinions. Establishing clear and effective guidelines for dealing with the normal issues that arise in a group are also critical to a smooth running team.
There will be conflicts, disagreements, and stalemates. Deciding in advance how the group will handle them will ensure molehills won’t turn into mountains in the heat of the moment.
Finally, build in a process for continually monitoring the health of the group. It’s critical to quickly identify problems and realign processes as needed to keep the team on track.
Build an Amazing Team
The benefits of an engaged and diverse team bring clear value to businesses and organizations but they aren’t without their challenges.
Acknowledging the issues, learning about what each person brings to the table, expressing appreciation, creating group processes, and continual monitoring will enable diverse teams to work effectively together.
Maybe your team will win the next Super Bowl championship for your industry!
Share Your Diverse Perspective!
Please share your thoughts on the power of diverse groups in the comment section below. I can’t wait to read about your perspective and experiences.
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