Team diversity is often acknowledged as an important goal in building project groups, but there's little discussion about why it is desirable for small businesses. Diversity means difference, and isn't it counterintuitive to expect dissimilar individuals to perform with single-minded purpose? Wouldn't a team composed of employees with comparable professional experiences and similar personalities function more smoothly?
As the most progressive managers will attest, the answer is no. In fact, project diversity is a good thing. They know that a team works best not when its members are identical but rather when they are compatible, complementary and able to cooperate. That's why a group of people who think and work alike may ultimately fail, while a team of disparate individuals might be extremely successful.
Achieving Project Diversity
In striving for team diversity, most people envision a group of individuals who represent a blend of 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 a broad array of 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, for example, while a team of introverts will 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 – extraverts and introverts, deliberate planners and spontaneous doers, logical fact-finders and perceptive thinkers who can connect the dots and synthesize information.
Skills and Experience
When a project requires the team approach, it means that no single individual possesses the breadth of skills and experience necessary to complete the task. Managers must identify which skills are required and what types of experience would be most beneficial, then assemble the appropriate players.
As the group works together, its members will end up sharing valuable knowledge and best practices. Informal cross-training may take place, for example, 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 the parts. And that's the most successful 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 will be balanced out by teammates who tend to have a more panoramic view of resources, deliverables, schedules and deadlines. In general, individuals do not have to be identical in the way they approach tasks and responsibilities, but there should be sufficient overlap as well as acknowledgement that there's often more than one right way to tackle a job.
Even in a randomly selected group, people will 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. Managers should take the time to identify each position on the team – for example, 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.
Project diversity clearly adds strength. Rather than causing difficulties, a multiplicity of viewpoints and variety of personalities and work styles create an invigorating environment that can spark innovation, creativity and fresh thinking. By carefully composing teams of individuals who know how to play to each other's strengths and compensate for one another's shortcomings, managers will discover that team diversity not only enlivens the group, but is also a source of greater productivity and success.