You hear it all of the time: “Leverage the diversity of your team.” Or “Make sure you’re creating diverse working groups”. While we certainly agree, this directive can leave team leaders confused. What’s missing? The “how to”. Without diversity we limit the potential of our problem solving and creativity because we synthesize information in isolation. Essentially, one brain on the task.
The trouble with isolated decision making or problem solving is two-fold. First is obvious; the limitation of possible outcomes. Second, organizations may be squandering their opportunity to maximize and empower their teams.
Often the experience in a project group, diverse or not, can cause hesitation to collaborate. Leaders may have experienced anxiety when managing project groups with varying opinions and styles. Without a system or method to maximize contribution and filter ideas through an unbiased lens, the experience can be chaotic.
If a leader is not prepared or skilled in identifying the factors that contribute to their team’s diversity, they may view conflict as evidence of dysfunctional teams or their own failure.
To help demystify this topic, here are three essentials to leverage diversity of thought:
- Understand the complexity of Diversity
Diversity is complex because people are unique. We each have different experiences with the environments we’ve been raised in, our physical abilities, medical condition, view of ourselves and personal style.
It’s the varying combination and intricacies in each factor that contributes to our unique view of the world.
When we talk about leveraging diversity, it means we apply an understanding of these factors and respect the individual’s unique processing of information and approach to work through those factors.
The beauty in work groups is bringing together a healthy blend of individuals who diversify or literally expand results.
Now this sounds great but noticing the complexity, how are we going to accomplish this?
Using something smaller scale and perhaps less evasive, such as personal style cues, makes the task achievable. Look for a blend of verbal vs non-verbal, task focussed vs people focussed and whether these individuals are environment influencers or environment assessors.
Taking time to notice which dominant factors exist and ensuring you intentionally build groups with a blend of these tendencies ensures you create a diverse group.
(Adapted from Personal Style Models, The Four Dimensions, Personality Factors, CRG Consulting Resource Group International Inc.)
- Understand Groups
Much research has been completed on the psychology of groups which outlines behaviour, boundaries and how groups develop over time. Being aware of the behaviour that is associated at various stages of group development are important context points for project leaders. Psychologist Bruce W. Tuckman’s five-stage theory of group development is a popular reference.
As with personal style cues, functional group roles are great descriptors that allow leaders to assess the balance of their diverse groups once the team begins to work together. Evaluate roles that members gravitate towards to ensure some are focussed on new ideas while others are focussed on deadlines; some group members will energize while others will evaluate and so on.
Again, the leader needs to ensure each person has equal opportunity to engage in their strengths to maximize diversity in group contributions.
It is widely discussed that cross functionalism may be the key to ensuring diversity. While important, thinking only of cross-functionalism doesn’t take into account that 2 different roles may attract a very similar personal style types thus tipping the scale towards one type over another.
Cross functional groups are great however at accomplishing various perspectives from different business groups within one organization, giving a larger perspective on customer problems than would be achieved through one department.
- Maximize Participation
Group members will participate fully in a project meeting if the following criteria are addressed:
- Understand the topic- As the facilitator of your project meeting it is your responsibility to ensure you have clearly defined the parameters of the problem statement or mission you’re working on.
- Have the knowledge needed for fruitful discussion- Engaging the project team in research prior to the meeting will give them a level of comfort and engage them in the topic prior to the session.
- Feel safe expressing their opinion- Your Innovation System will always encounter your organizational culture. It is important to establish a safe environment to share ideas.
- Feel that the organization will support their ideas- Clarify beforehand what the next steps will be after this session so they know what their ideas are contributing to, how the selection process will work and who’s sponsoring the project.