Diversity is a Team Concept

Posted by Kristin Arnold on November 28, 2008

Diversity is inherent in extraordinary teamwork.  After all, if everyone thought the same, why bother to have a team?  One person would have the same perspective and answer as the next one!  Team synergy comes from diverse points of view, building small agreements to develop large successes.

“Diversity” simply means differences present among people today.  High-performing teams value diverse perspectives, backgrounds, ethnicities, genders, abilities, ages, and the like.

Lenora Billings-Harris, a work force diversity specialist agrees.  “When people are exposed to each other’s viewpoints, ideas flourish,” she said.

To ensure that teams truly value diversity:

Get Smart.  Build your knowledge and understanding of different groups, so you don’t rely on biases or stereotypes.

“Do your homework by conducting research on the Internet, talking to people in the group you wish to reach, and getting to know your teammates,” Billings-Harris said.

Connect.  Take the time to demonstrate sincere interest in your teammates, Billings-Harris suggests.

“The more you are able to connect with individuals, the more likely you will see the real person, instead of just their ‘packaging.’  Their differences will then be an asset, instead of a barrier,” she said.

Be Watchful.  Multicultural behaviors, words, or gestures might affect the team dynamic.  For example, the American “bye-bye” gesture means “come here” to some people from Southeast Asia.  By getting smart and making connections, this kind of unintentional faux pas can be used as a learning opportunity.

Ante Up.  Recognize that everyone on the team contributes value.  They might not look like you, sound like you, or think like you.

“The key within a diverse environment is to be able to practice great teamwork with all team members, rather than only those with whom you are most comfortable,” Billings-Harris emphasized.

Be Fair.  Sometimes we have a tendency to count on the same people because we know that they’ll do great work.  However, if you truly want to develop all team members, regardless of their packaging, identify projects, tasks, and responsibilities that could further develop their skills.

“Once the task is delegated, be sure to coach and counsel, and be clear regarding your expectations and the results,” Billings-Harris cautioned.

Challenge Assumptions.  Culturally, Americans tend to follow the Golden Rule:  “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”  It’s a great rule of thumb, but the Golden Rule assumes that we’re all coming from the same place.  Challenge your assumptions before leaping to conclusions about what works best for diverse teams.

Question:  Do you value the diversity among your team members?

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