Donald Fan, senior director in the Office of Diversity at Walmart, says that “diverse teams often outperform teams composed of the very best individuals, because this diversity of perspective and problem-solving approach trumps individual ability,” (2014).
What is the definition of diversity? Ask a thousand people and you will get a thousand different answers. Diversity can be defined by age, gender, race, religion, culture, upbringing, sexual orientation, lifetime experiences, skill, etc. In today’s global world, it is important to understand that every individual views problems and solutions in different ways. We all learn from our own experiences and bring new thoughts and ideas to the table; no two people are alike. Thus teams composed of diverse individuals will approach problems from a wide variety of perspectives and be able to generate a variety of successful solutions.
Diversity is critical for a global organisation to compete and succeed in today’s modern business world given that these teams are well led. Therefore, the ability to lead a diverse team is a crucial skill for leaders to possess. Diversity, especially in the workplace, promotes creativity, innovation and problem solving (WISELI 2010).
In the video above, Leadership and…Strengthening a Diverse Team, Ron Desi highlights ten ways to strengthen a diverse team in order to succeed in the workplace.
- “Celebrate what you have in common.” Highlighting the team’s common interests and goals will help develop a sense of belonging and build emotional connections which will induce better teamwork and produce better results.
- “Reward differences.” For team members to feel comfortable in sharing different ideas and visions, leaders must recognise and reward diverse contributions. This will help to engender good teamwork and strengthen the team’s output.
- “Be clear on team roles.” Every team member must know exactly what their individual role is to fully contribute to the team’s common goal.
- “Provide a clear vision.” Leaders need to clearly and unambiguously communicate objectives and direction for achieving team goals.
- “Never tolerate discrimination.” Leaders should never allow any bigotry or prejudices. Otherwise the value of the team’s diversity will be undermined.
- “Obtain quick wins.” Since diverse teams generally take longer to build cohesiveness, it is important to set early targets and to celebrate quick successes to build team effectiveness and create unity.
- “Be a true leader.” Effective leaders offer guidance, support and advice which help each individual contribute to their full potential.
- “Have patience.” Successful leaders allow diverse teams time to build cohesiveness to maximise team effectiveness.
- “Volunteer.” Leaders should provide opportunities for their team to volunteer as a unit outside of the office. This will help build good relationships and lead to a successful team.
- “The ‘old’ rules still apply.” As a leader of a diverse team, be sure to inspire open communication between team members and with the leader, establish team and individual accountabilities, and reward good individual ideas as well as team accomplishments.
By following these ten guidelines, leaders will be able to successfully manage diverse teams and ensure that their teams will produce better results in the workplace (Desi 2010).
While it’s extremely important for leaders of a diverse team to understand what guidelines to follow to help improve team members’ productivity, it is equally important for leaders to understand “what diversity is not about.” According to the Chartered Management Institute, diversity is not about diminishing quality, eliminating prejudices, politically correct appearances, filling a quota or a distraction from the team’s purpose (Chartered Management Institute 2007).
Moving abroad to earn an MBA in Global Business from Coventry University London Campus has opened my eyes to a world of diversity. Understanding my own cultural background, values and experientially-based beliefs in comparison to others has encouraged me to appreciate the value of diverse thinking and approaches to issues. Throughout my studies, students have been assigned group activities and projects which demonstrate the value of some of Desi’s ten guidelines for building successful diverse teams.
For one of our group activities, students were divided into diverse teams and assigned a scavenger hunt. As a result of the contributions of the diverse classmates, my team was able to designate individual responsibilities, establish communication channels, and set an intermediate goal to review progress. One of my team members couldn’t complete her task. However, she quickly communicated this to the team allowing us to discuss the problem and identify an alternate solution. The wide range of solutions provided by the different teams, taught me the importance of establishing unambiguous goals. This activity also demonstrated the value of establishing communication channels and assigning individual responsibilities with holding both the team and individual members accountable.
In today’s global business world, diversity will continue to increase. Thus, it’s vital for leaders to not only embrace diversity but also to possess the skill sets needed to successfully leverage the potential of a diverse team to produce maximum results.
Chartered Management Institute (2007) Embracing Diversity: Guidance for Managers [online] available from <http://www.managers.org.uk/sites/default/files/u23/Info_for_Employers_Embracing_Diveristy.pdf> [12 May 2014]
Desi, R. (2010) Leadership and…Strengthening a Diverse Team [online] available from <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Uv08ObnMOzI> [12 May 2014]
DiversityInc (2011) Proof That Diversity Drives Innovation [online] available from <http://www.diversityinc.com/diversity-management/proof-that-diversity-drives-innovation/> [13 May 2014]
WISELI (2010) Benefits and Challenges of Diversity in Academic Settings [online] available from <http://wiseli.engr.wisc.edu/docs/Benefits_Challenges.pdf> [12 May 2014]