Leveraging Diversity in TeamsCategory: Professional Development
Teams that develop the best, most innovative and effective outcome are generally the most diverse teams.
The term team has become synonymous for people who work on the same project. But frequently this group of colleagues does not function as a team and therefore do not reap the benefits of working together. One of the challenges is leveraging the diversity of the team.
To achieve the best outcome, each individual member of a team must not only have diverse skill sets, experiences, and talents, but they must also respect differences and encourage full participation of every member. More often than not it is differences that can cause disconnect in a team and prevent true team formation and the best outcome. It is the leader’s responsibility to initiate and maintain an environment that connects each of members in a manner that facilitates collaboration and promotes productivity and harmony despite their differences.
In order to understand how to get your team to connect with each other, you must first understand and appreciate the differences among them. There are very obvious and frequently discussed differences including gender, generational and cultural ethnicity. Those that are discussed less frequently include social, profession and group culture and personality traits that impact work-style. You cannot effectively lead a team if you do not know them.
- 1. Social Background
Social experiences have major influence on thought, interactions, cognitive strategies, communication styles, and behaviors. Life experiences related to an individual’s financial situation for example may affect motivation and value placed on promotion, titles, and recognition.
- 2. Group Culture
Even within a corporation there are multiple cultures. Understanding them is vital when collaborating across units and departments which has become an essential strategy for any business to innovate and remain relevant in the future. The group culture is the result of professional values, goals and the way work is done in specific business units. For example some groups encourage individual competitiveness, in some groups everything is urgent, and in some groups the most important input is that of the leader. Each member of the team will bring some of their primary group’s behavior along as well. It is important to understand their business unit culture in order to understand how that culture has influenced the individual and how it will influence the dynamics of your group.
- 3. The Impact of Personality on Work Styles
The impact of individual personalities on work style can never be underestimated or ignored. Conducting personality assessments is an invaluable tool for understanding how your team can work best together. Such tests are valuable aids in understanding how individuals relate to others and how different dominant personalities may interact with each other. For example knowing that a group member tends to remain quiet while others are engaged in a back-and-forth debate, and orchestrating a pause and even soliciting input from this particular group member to allow contribution of potentially critical insight that may lead to a break-through is helpful. Knowing that a group member likes to control conversation means that you will need to know when to use your team leader skills to maintain focus of the discussion, avoid having one member consume too much time and ensure each member participates in order to continue progress.
Understanding the differences is critical but it is only the beginning. To be an effective team leader, you will have positive influence once you determine how the differences can be integrated into a functional and cohesive unit.
Focusing on the Common Goal
There is a very critical uniting factor that should bring the most diverse group together; a successful outcome. But establishing guidelines to facilitate participation together can effectively unit the group as well. This should be a fairly quick exercise, particularly if you present a framework and ask for contributions. Work group retreats or divergent thinking exercises are very effective tools in uniting a group. In the end individual contribution and accountability and group ownership is essential for collective success.
As a team leader, it is essential that you assess each individual in your team and make an effort to understand him or her to enhance your ability to encourage full participation and the best outcome. Connection will happen when differences are respected and the focus is on success of achieving the best outcome.
Creating a team culture of connection requires a personal commitment and investment of time, but that time spent will reap dividends in productivity and improved relationships.