While human beings were designed with inherent propensity to explore new things, discover unknown experiences and stretch the limits of curiosity, we still tend to be comfortable working with people that we are familiar with. It takes a lot of courage, experience or exposure or some combination of these attributes to seek to work with people that are very different from us.
We sometimes are just afraid of the unknown to work with people that we do not know well or people that are very different from us. Today, we want to challenge this natural tendency. In fact, we want to propose that a team is much stronger when it is composed of people of diverse backgrounds than when it has identical members.
Any team leader that wants to maximise team performance and output will prefer a diverse team to a homogeneous one. He or she will seek a team that has diversity across racial, religious, cultural, tribal, gender as well as age lines among many domains of diversity.
Researchers have found that teams that are comprised of diverse members perform better than homogeneous ones when it comes to problem solving, conflict resolution as well as creativity. Is that not what you need in an ideal team?
If you can get your team optimised at solving problems and creativity, it means that you can maximise the output and value that you get from your team. Additionally, if you can do this while the team is far more united or at least a team that quickly resolves conflict, then you can gain the efficiencies that homogenous teams can only dream of.
Another powerful benefit of diversity is that such a team has members who complement each other. On the other hand, a homogenous team will aggregate and amplify the major weaknesses of everyone resulting in big weaknesses. A diverse team will probably have someone who is a planner and another one a doer. They will have someone who pays attention to risks and safety while another member will perhaps be a good communicator and negotiator. Someone will guide team with big picture thinking while another member will pay attention to minute detail. This kind of team will also likely have someone with sales skills. They may even have someone naturally good at conflict resolution or a peace maker. With diversity, you get a whole range and spectrum of the skills that your team needs to excel. Diversity makes your team stronger and more resilient than teams that are homogeneous.
What this means for a leader is that you have to work hard to try and get some diversity in your team. This also means that you need to promote diversity in your team. Some members may be seen to be slow or to be paying too much attention to detail or simply scanning through high level elements of issues. All such differences need to be celebrated and enjoyed rather than condemned.
A good leader works hard to lead by example in accepting differences between different people. For example, if you are chairing a meeting and you want to champion diversity, you will not just listen to the vocal outgoing members of the committee. In fact, you will reach out to the quiet and slow, timid and shy members who may not be volunteering to speak up. You may need to directly request them to comment on or suggest alternative views.
Next time you are building a new team, take a deliberate move to look at the diversity in the group. If you do not see much diversity, work hard to get the right balance. If you keep aiming to improve the performance of your team, you need to continuously review the diverse composition of your team. Good luck as you seek to rise and shine as a team leader!!