When the room is full of marketing experts, you will likely end up with a marketing answer. But, what if the room is full of marketing, sales, and service experts?
What if all the team members are big-picture thinkers without any detail-oriented planners? You might end up with great ideas but an insufficient plan to implement it.
When everyone on the team thinks alike, groupthink is a danger. Too often, homogeneous teams discuss ideas with high-fives and make decisions with little consideration for unintended consequences. When team members have different perspectives, it sparks creativity, increases view of obstacles and blind spots, reduces tunnel vision, and leads to stronger, well-rounded decision making.
Recruit talent with a bias toward improving team diversity
Recognizing they multiply their contribution through their teams, leaders are continually recruiting, looking out for talent to increase team performance. They engage potential candidates in conversation and seek recommendations from other leaders. How can they recruit to gain the advantage of diversity?
Qualifications. First and foremost, recruit team members who are qualified for the role. It is table stakes to select candidates who have demonstrated the knowledge, skills, and accomplishments required to succeed in the role and have the potential required to grow within the role.
Diversity. Recruit team members based on their ability to contribute to team diversity.
Cast a wide net of diversity you seek: Background, culture, personality types, learning styles, work experience, life experience, expertise (marketing, product, sales, care, finance, technology, billing, retention), etc.
There are other attributes which will introduce another layer of different thinking and value but are protected classes: Race, age, gender, sexual orientation, and religion. They are protected for a reason, and you should honor that. Consult your HR and legal professionals for advice.
The point is, the more diversity you have on your team across these attributes, the stronger your team can be. They have experienced life differently giving them unique perspectives. Together, with all these perspectives, your team will be more creative and make better decisions. You won’t be able to check all these boxes. This is not about a strict checklist and rules, but a philosophy. Don’t be too rigid. Focus on the spirit of diversity.
Courage. Recruit team members who are willing to express their views, and to do so respectfully. The different perspectives will only help the team if articulated.
Be deliberate and transparent
Make team diversity a stated goal. Discuss this goal with your leadership as part of your business plan. Discuss it with your team (you need them to participate and bring their different perspectives to team discussions).
Advocate team learning related to diversity (communication, facilitation, conflict, negotiation, etc.)
- Read books on these topics, and discuss your learnings in team meetings. Invite team members to do the same.
- Participate in workshops related to these topics; Invite your team to join you; Or, bring in the facilitator for a joint team class.
- Carve time in your annual strategy session or even occasional staff meetings for group learning.
When filling a vacancy, discuss diversity with your HR recruiter. Also, include this philosophy in your discussion with potential candidates (they need to understand the team they might join and expectations of team contribution).
Create an atmosphere of healthy contention
Contention in and of itself is not a worthy goal. If you are to gain the benefit of a diverse team, you need the team members to express their differences in a healthy, productive way. In any group, there is conflict. This will be especially true with a diverse team. Getting value from that diversity depends on how effectively you deal with that conflict. If you suppress it, you don’t get value from it. If you encourage a healthy and authentic process for addressing the conflict, your team gets stronger.
You are not looking to incite conflict, but to harness the value from natural contention.
- Make it safe to be different and to express those differences. Celebrate it.
- But, don’t make it about the diversity itself. Instead, make it about the group strength and better outcomes borne out of that diversity.
- Model the right behaviors: Listening, asking clarifying questions to understand, expressing differences with respect and without judgment, practicing the philosophy that opinions don’t equal people (it’s not personal if you disagree), relationships are bigger than opinions and don’t hinge on liking others or agreeing with them.
- Build relationships and foster collaboration. Provide forums for team members to get to know each other. Relationships foster trust, which increases openness.
- Know the difference between creating conflict (you are not there to pick fights) and fostering healthy process for natural conflict. Even if you have strong team members, you will likely be facilitating their learning.
- Don’t be afraid. Learn. Be open with your team when you make mistakes. Be humble.
- Once everyone expresses their views, completes their healthy discussion, and a decision is made, as long as it is not illegal, immoral, or unethical, expect the group to support the decision. It does not mean they must abandon their views, but they should not undermine the decision.
You don’t always get to build from scratch. What then?
It is unusual that a leader gets to build a team from the ground up. If you have that opportunity, use it. It’s more common for a leader to inherit a team. In those cases, use vacancies to bolster team diversity. An incidental reorganization could present the same opportunity. Or, perhaps you could have folks temporarily loaned to your team.
It can sometimes be mutually-beneficial to orchestrate developmental moves where two candidates switch teams. What if you took this to the next level and encouraged your best talent to move out of their comfort zone and take developmental assignments in other disciplines? Imagine how their performance in a marketing role could improve if they have had experience in sales and service and operations. These leaders will gain the benefit of diverse expertise.
Not just for work
Diversity is valuable beyond the office, your direct report team, and project teams. This same diversity principle is true of non-profit boards you sit on, your mentors, and personal board of advisors. A diversity of thought and perspective can enrich all.
I find my circle of friends is stronger because of its diversity. In his book Fierce People, Dirk Wittenborn wrote: “We are the sum of all the people we have ever met. You change the tribe and the tribe changes you.” You can enjoy the benefits of diversity, too. On your team. In your life.
Author: Kevin D. Phillips believes loyal customers fuel business growth and profitability, and that engaged employees create loyal customers. Connect at www.KevinDPhillips.com.