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 and midsize businesses. Diversity means difference. 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 many experienced managers would attest, the answer is no. In fact, of the array of employment solutions that foster progress in the workplace, project diversity can be one of the strongest factors working in favor of business success. A team works best not when its members are identical, but 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 dream team of disparate individuals might be extremely successful.
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Achieving team 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, 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 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. Cross-departmental collaboration may be involved.
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 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 balance out teammates who tend to have a more panoramic view of resources, deliverables, schedules and deadlines. 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 benefits of project diversity
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.
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