Most people would agree that a diverse team is more likely to succeed than a homogenous one. But why would this be true? Isn't it counterintuitive to expect dissimilar individuals to perform with a single-minded purpose? Wouldn't a team of employees with comparable professional experiences and similar personalities function more smoothly?
As many experienced managers would attest, the answer is no.
In fact, of all the ways to foster progress in the workplace, project diversity can be one of the most effective. A team works best not when its members are identical, but when they are compatible, complementary and able to cooperate.
Think of it in football terms. Quarterbacks are your star players, but a team of just quarterbacks would be embarrassed by the opposition. It’s the same in the workplace. However talented, a group of people who think and work alike may ultimately fail, while a dream team of disparate individuals might be extremely successful.
Most people think of a diverse team as one that blends races, ethnicities or cultural backgrounds. Though important, this is just one approach to creating an eclectic team. Managers can build the best teams by seeking diversity in several areas.
One secret to creating successful team diversity is to combine compatible personalities. A group composed entirely of Type-A superstars may become mired in power struggles, while a team of introverts might have a hard time choosing someone to lead the way.
A more functional, harmonious group would include one or two leaders who can organize and direct the activities of the rest of the team. Other members would represent a variety of personalities — extroverts and introverts, deliberate planners and spontaneous do-ers, logical fact-finders, and perceptive thinkers who can connect the dots and synthesize information.
Personality counts — and the right combination can make the team's efforts that much more successful.
Skills and experience
When a project requires collaboration, it means that no single individual possesses the breadth of skills and experience necessary to complete the task. Managers must identify which skills and experience are required, then assemble the appropriate players to achieve the benefits of teamwork in the workplace.
As the group works together, its members will end up sharing valuable knowledge and best practices. Informal cross-training may take place as the team's technical guru presents a report on several different software options. Mentoring relationships may arise when a large team breaks into subgroups to handle interim tasks. At its best, the team will embody the principle that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. And that's the greatest outcome of team diversity.
For optimum harmony and cooperation, managers should choose team members with complementary work styles. For example, hyper-focused, detail-oriented people balance out teammates who tend to have a more panoramic view of resources, deliverables, schedules and deadlines. Remote workers may need on-site colleagues to be their “eyes and ears” in the office.
In general, individuals are not identical in the way they approach tasks and responsibilities. The key thing — within the parameters of your own office culture — is to acknowledge that there's often more than one right way to tackle a job and to try to reach agreement on the best approach for each task.
Even in a randomly selected group, people tend to assume specific roles that are consistent with their personalities, habits, training and skills. That's why some people appear to be born leaders, while others are most comfortable in behind-the-scenes, supporting roles. While setting objectives and responsibilities, managers should take the time to identify each position on the team — leader, researcher, tech specialist, facilitator, resource coordinator, liaison with other work groups — and then choose those individuals who can best perform the duties of a given role.
The manager's key role
Team diversity can clearly add strength. But it’s up to the manager to make sure diversity sparks innovation, creativity and fresh thinking on the team rather than a hodgepodge of irreconcilable differences. By building teams of individuals who play to each other's strengths and compensate for one another's shortcomings, managers will discover that diversity not only enlivens the group but also spurs greater productivity and success.