Diverse Teams: Are They Worth It?

April 23, 2011

Leadership


Have you ever had one of those moments where you wished everyone on your team was more like you?  Communication would be so much easier and everyone would just get along all the time.  Or so we think.  What about creativity and innovation?  Aren’t diverse teams better for coming up with novel ideas?  I am about to create and hire a new team, so it is a topic I have been pondering lately, particularly because I work with several people who show strong preferences about who they work with.

I learned the value and challenges of hiring a diverse team very early, when a friend and I hired our very first team for a university summer program.  We were students and co-directors of the program.  It would have been very easy for us to hire our friends and have the best summer ever.  However, we had inherited a significant debt from the previous year, the Engineering Society and the Faculty were upset about the money we had to borrow, and the program was getting stale.  When we assembled our team we intentionally hired twelve people with different talents and personalities to help us develop a creative program and to connect with a wider audience.  For our first management experience the team was a challenge because everyone had vastly different motivations and work ethics.  Fortunately, we were mature enough to recognize our differences and not get into too many conflicts.   It was worth it because we had the most successful year ever.

While it is much easier to manage similar individuals, I will always create teams with complementary rather than complimentary backgrounds, talents and personalities.  That means I intentionally hire different people so that the group is stronger than any individual on their own.  Two of my developers recently showed me the power of that.  As we were discussing the design of our new intranet, the developer with the hard-core IT background consistently challenged ideas from a security and maintainability point of view.  The web developer consistently challenged ideas from a useability and accessibility point of view.  Even with opposing points of view, they focussed on understanding each other and are coming up with a solution that will make the best of both worlds.  I need those conversations to happen so we will be better able to meet the business needs than if I only had only one or the other point of view on the team.

As a manager of diverse teams, I have to constantly work at improving my listening, coaching and motivational skills.  It also means I have to push opposing personalities to understand each other, find common ground, and work with each other professionally.  I never ask that everyone likes all their teammates as they would their friends, but I do ask that they figure out how to work with each to reach a common goal.  It is a lot of work, but it’s my job.  Those are the same skills needed to build strong customer relationships, so I may as well master them with internal teams.

What do you think?  Are diverse teams worth the effort?

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About Liza Wood

Throughout my career, I have consistently joined companies on the verge of explosive growth and change. From these experiences, I have developed a human, collaborative, and pragmatic leadership style. I would like to share that point of view, along with my experiences, on this blog. Join me on Facebook!

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7 Comments on “Diverse Teams: Are They Worth It?”

  1. Daniel Says:

    Diverse teams are worthwhile if the team leadership can handle the extra workload, if not a diverse team is at more risk of factions and death by infighting.

    Reply

    • Liza Says:

      True. I guess that’s why I will always choose diversity, favouring the increased creativity and innovation over an easier management workload. I guess I’m a sucker for a challenge 🙂

      Reply

  2. Iain Stevens-Guille Says:

    This varies a little with the goals of the team, a creative project, particularly one which is meant for a wide audience, is always better when you have many perspectives going into it, but you have to watch out that everyone on your team are bringing their perspectives to the same goal.

    Game and web development are particulary susceptible to this. Vision is key, and communicating that vision is critical when you have people with not just different skill sets, but different attitudes towards solving problems. You benefit from having more than one approach available, but when you pick a direction, you need to put in the extra effort to explain the chosen direction to those with other points of view.

    Reply

    • Liza Says:

      Whether a team has diverse or similar personalities they need to be aligned with the project vision and goal(s). I’ll discuss that in a future post. If you have a team with diverse personalities, aligning everyone to the vision and goal(s) is one aspect of management that becomes more challenging.

      Reply

  3. toasty redhead Says:

    Keep up the good work on this blog!

    Reply

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

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