28 Jan 16 - Stay diverse, stay effective

Stay diverse, stay effective: strategies for team leaders

Did you know that there is a direct link between diversity and innovation, and between innovation and team success?


Recent research provides compelling evidence that diversity unlocks innovation and drives market growth.


Another way of looking at it is: “Diversity brings an array of life experiences and world views that consistently produce a variety of new concepts and ideas. “ – Profiles in Diversity Journal.


A few years ago I led a high performing team in the Australian Government. I had the privilege of hiring for most of the team’s positions. The demographics of my team sampled each of the generations, which contributed to a fair degree of healthy debate.


When I consider what we achieved together as a team – one of the best things our organisation had done, according to our key stakeholder – I see the positive impact of a diverse range of opinions.


Diversity can be uncomfortable. We usually don’t know how to channel diversity into success and I can remember times when I demonstrated that learning.    


Nonetheless as a team leader it is critical to find ways to value diversity in your team. You are more likely to capture a variety of perspectives, which helps you respond to issues and stay aware of your broader context. Valuing each team member’s contribution is also a powerful key to strong engagement. Lastly, individual differences can generate healthy debate, which is foundational to achieving a high performing team.  


How can we capture the best of diversity in our teams? Let’s step through a strategy that can have a powerful impact.


Firstly, we need to recognise the huge personal variation between people. Our communication style emerges from our brain dominance, psychological preference, sensory approach and the communication examples that have surrounded us since birth – so it’s important to recognise that there is a huge amount of personal variation and avoid stereotyping. Instead, keep an innate curiosity that will enable you to see people in all their beautiful and sometimes frustrating variability.


Secondly, take steps to understand each team member’s communication style. Profiling tools can be extremely useful when used carefully, without stereotyping. They can give a helpful guide to diverse thinking styles in your team. Profiling tools can also help you to work out how best to communicate with your colleagues. Tools such as the Hermann Brain Dominance Instrument provide a highly useful framework.


Thirdly, when uncomfortable differences arise, stay calm, don’t take it personally and ask questions to genuinely understand the other person’s point of view. These tips will help to turn uncomfortable differences into opportunities, by avoiding destructive conflict and turning it into healthy debate.


Team leaders need to handle communication so that they appreciate differences. Don’t label uncomfortable differences between people as ‘personality issues’ –  help your team members to value individual differences instead.

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