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3 tips on how to leverage your team's diversity

How to use differences to create more inclusive and productive teams

Be honest, do you prefer to work together with people that are more like you, with your preferences, your way of doing things, … or do you challenge yourself to connect with people who work differently than you? Now, this is a bit of a catch 24 question, because as human beings we are programmed to seek the path of least resistance, to seek the familiar, and that for better or worse. When it comes to team development, fact is that numerous studies have shown that companies with more diversity in their workforce and teams had e.g. more sales, more clients, greater profits, and more-innovative products. So let me give you 3 tips on how you can leverage your team's diversity to build effective teams and provide effective team leadership.

“Yes, I am guilty, too…”

Some years ago, when I was working in the healthcare sector, I had the opportunity to participate in an international board and give a presentation alongside a colleague. I was very excited for the opportunity, but I was also worried about how well I would do. My colleague was much more experienced and talkative than me, so I knew that I would need to be prepared if I wanted to make a good impression. Thankfully, we were able to work together and play on both of our strengths and create a presentation that we both felt confident about giving. The conference went well, and we even had a chance to participate in a panel discussion afterwards. Would I have felt more comfortable to collaborate on this presentation with someone from my country, my background, my experience? Yes, probably. Would I then have learned from it, gotten out of my comfort zone, and delivered such a good result? Most likely not.

Diversity in teams

Diversity can be defined in different ways. We can talk about both innate diversity, like gender and race, as well as acquired diversity, like culture, personality. For both of these, when it comes to diversity in teams, we often feel it’s most natural and intuitive to build teams with people that are similar, based on the assumption that homogeneous teams understand each other easier and there is better collaboration. In addition we believe that there is a higher risk for conflict in heterogeneous teams, so we try to avoid them. These are two misconceptions.

It has been shown in numerous studies that teams and workforces within greater diversity perform overall better. However, these results don’t come from simply putting together diverse teams. You also have to put in the effort to leverage the potential of these teams. Because if we don’t welcome and effectively facilitate differences, then these misconceptions can become reality.

3 tips to leverage diversity in your team

#1 Show and support diversity

When you first create a diverse team or environment, it is important that you also make people aware of the differences and not settle with the fact that you “have” a diverse team. You can only leverage the results, creativity and advantages of a diverse team, when people actually know how they have different backgrounds, ways of working, or personalities. This opens up the possibility for new perspectives. Some ways to do this are by being a role model, talking to and getting to know people. By doing this, you can help make everyone feel comfortable and respected, and encourage others to do the same. This will ultimately make your workplace or community more enjoyable and with that more productive.

#2 Promote diversity as an essential part to creativity and productivity

As a team leader you need to promote and recognise diversity as a necessary ingredient to creativity and productivity. Especially in the beginning of a project when teams are formed, it is important to instill the mindset that more and more diverse ideas will bring about the creativity and productivity necessary to achieve the goals of the task at hand. This will help your team members to be open about bringing their perspective to the table and with that leveraging the benefits of diversity.

#3 Recognize diversity as opportunity and not an obligation

Diversity should be seen as an opportunity, not an obligation. Too often, people view diversity as something that must be tolerated or overcome. However, if you manage to integrate diversity into the culture as the norm and a source of strength, we can tap into a vast pool of talent. Therefore it is essential to start with yourself, and explore the possibilities of different perspectives with an open mind.

How do you leverage diversity in your team?

In summary, a diverse team should be made aware of their differences in order to take advantage of the creativity and advantages. Furthermore, diversity is necessary for creativity and productivity in teams, and should be promoted as an opportunity to explore different perspectives and tap into a vast pool of talent.

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