Posts Tagged diversity

Getting the most from your team

Let’s say you have embraced inclusion as a core business practice and created an environment that embraces the full spectrum of diversity. How do you get the most from this powerful asset?

An article in Harvard Business Review entitled Putting Your Company’s Whole Brain to Work, available for purchase HERE, provides some guidelines for getting the most from a diverse team:

  • Understand your own profile first so that you approach issues and problem solving objectively.
  • Develop teams that represent different cognitive processes and perspectives.
  • Create environments and guidelines that capture the full value of the team’s diversity.
  • Participate in and lead the process with this full set of objectives in mind.

Great advice.  And it just goes to show that a lot of what we’re doing today builds on skills developed in the past.  This article is from 1997, but much of the advice was as relevant in our parents’ and grandparents’ business endeavors.

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The importance of diversity to collaboration

When forming a group to tackle a project, most teams follow a simple script.  The core constituents draw up a list of the skills and knowledge they think they’ll need to be successful, and then they start calling acquaintances that have the appropriate attributes.  In many cases, though, the way that people build networks can be self-limiting.

Marshall Van Alstyne, a Professor at Boston University and an expert on information economics, made an observation on this phenomenon while describing to Computer World some of his important research:

…there’s evidence that the diversity of social networks really matters, not just the number of people. People have a tendency to build social networks by talking to people like themselves. That’s fine, but it doesn’t increase information diversity. You need to talk to people who aren’t like you. That’s not always easy, but it will increase the diversity of the information you have access to.

So, while building your social networks you should make a special effort to look for people who are different from you and actively seek to diversify the pool of people with whom you regularly communicate.  By doing this you will increase two important components of a successful networker: betweenness and reach.  Marshall used this diagram to illustrate:

Betweenness And Reach
Constrained vs. Unconstrained Constrained vs. Unconstrained

Illustration courtesy of Marshall Van Alstyne.

But having different information is only part of the equation.  A diverse group of individuals will not only possess more diverse data, they will also have different perspectives on the challenge itself, as well as differing cognitive styles that guide the the way they understand and solve abstract problems.  This diversity, leveraged correctly, can increase the collaborative quotient of the group.

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I hate you; let’s collaborate

I really enjoy Michael Sampson’s email updates, which are always entitled Working With People You Can’t Be With.  Michael is a font of information, but something about that title makes me wistful.  It conjurs up an image of lonely workers plugging away in dejected solitude while pining for the companionship of their peers.

Of course that’s just me indulging my silly imagination, but it made me think of something else the other day.  We need pointers for Working With People You Don’t Want to Be With.

We’re all pretty gregarious and tolerant folks, or so we’d like to think, but there are always one or two co-workers that just rub us the wrong way.  Maybe they’re condescending know-it-alls, or intolerably messy, or they occasionally take exception to your constant Monty Python references… the details don’t matter, you get the point.

Because of the increasingly flexible nature of today’s collaborative work environment,  these folks will get pulled into our gravitational field now and again.  And that’s a good thing, more often than not, because diversity is a key ingredient of a tasty innovation stew.

So what do you do if you’re thrust into the crucible with someone you can’t stand?  Or, viewing the challenge from a more positive perspective, how do you manage your personal feelings in order to increase the collaborative quotient or potential of your team?  Here are a few simple ideas:

  1. Set clear objectives for the project.  Once the objectives are clear the context of each individual’s contribution is more obvious and small personality flaws are easier to overlook.
  2. Take the time to evaluate assumptions.  Get the differing perspectives out in the open early, and work to align the major points of view.  The more hands pulling on the same rope, the better.
  3. Focus on the positive.  If the program is valuable, and it’s in line with your personal goals, expand your perspective to include the benefits each contributor brings to the table and recognise individual achievements as wins.
  4. Count to 10.  The advice your mum gave you is still good.  If you find yourself stewing, take a breath and think about the situation.  Is what you’re feeling relevant to the project?
  5. The right tool for the right job.  You don’t always have to work literally shoulder-to-shoulder.  Use applications and tools that allow members to participate effectively yet in non-confrontational ways.

Your personal potential is directly tied to the satisfaction you derive from the task at hand.  Relax, have fun, and keep the big picture in mind.  Who knows, it’s possible that you have more in common with your annoying co-worker than you think.

And now for something completely different…

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