Search any business resource and you’ll find a handful of articles touting the benefits of “workplace diversity” – a term often thrown around without much regard for its real world implications. Reduced to a handy catch-all phrase used in place of real, institutional change, diversity can at times be more about appearing inclusive than actual inclusivity. Yet its value cannot be overstated; a business that can effectively bring together and promote various perspectives, levels of experience, and approaches to work, is a business with a significant competitive edge over otherwise similar companies. Still, many consider the move toward inclusive work environments as an unwanted and inconvenient obligation.
The prospect of creating a more diverse and inclusive workforce should be exciting, not daunting.
Intentional Team Building
Don’t just hire an individual – consider how your new hire will interact and push other team members to do their best work, and how their added perspective will ultimately benefit the company as a whole. The last thing a team should be is homogeneous. More points of view means more bases covered, which in turn leads to greater creativity and fewer insensitive missteps.
Striking a healthy balance between any group of people can be difficult, and it’s often easiest to throw together like-minded individuals in an effort to stave off disagreement. But harmony and diversity are not mutually exclusive. When building a team, it is crucial to consider how people with different cultural, economic, and educational backgrounds may complement as well as challenge one another. An experienced recruiter will listen to a business’ needs, helping to balance these considerations and identify talent that will push the company toward its goals.
Worth noting is the various types of diversity at play; while gender, age, and race get a lot of public attention, deeper levels of diversity can be just as important to a thriving business environment. A man and woman may feel the same way about a certain topic regardless of gender because they share similar values. Likewise, two white, twenty-seven year old middle class men will have lived completely different lives and may therefore bring completely different experiences to bear on their work, despite appearing virtually identical on paper. Diversity doesn’t only exist in visible terms.
Since the solution to effective team building lies not so much in the technical skills of the team’s members as it does in the combination of their personalities, keeping these invisible diversities in mind is crucial when piecing together a diverse group of people.
Wouldn’t it be great if everyone could get along? While the prospect of a workplace devoid of conflict is at times appealing, such an environment is usually marked by stagnancy, mediocrity, and a disturbing lack of innovation. Conflict breeds change, and change breeds growth.
Companies like Amazon have been actively incorporating the creative potential of conflict into their business model for years. Many of their Leadership Principles hinge on notions of confrontation, holding firm to beliefs, and challenging (to the point of diminishing) coworkers. Though this approach seems to work for them, it is not the only – or the best – way to integrate conflict into your business.
Conflict creates disorder, and disorder can be a valuable conduit for real change. When properly mobilized conflict has the potential to be productive and positive rather than disparaging and punitive.
The key to conflict is respect. As long as all parties avoid personal attacks and keep in mind a common goal, conflict can be immensely generative. It opens up a dialogue about sensitive aspects of a business and prevents the proliferation of the status quo. It also makes team members more sensitive and adaptive in challenging situations. By bringing together a diversity of sometimes opposing, sometimes compatible perspectives, a business better ensures its continued development.
As useful as conflict can be in promoting creativity, it can make decision making and project implementation almost impossible. A recent HBR article suggests the solution lies in segregating teams into “idea teams” and “implementation teams.” The idea group is made up of people with diverse backgrounds representing varying schools of thought, while the implementation group is a more cohesive team of like-minded individuals better able to take projects to completion. Creating a diverse workplace requires a fine balance between promoting differing perspectives and stifling outright conflict. The best businesses are able to encourage collaboration and conflict at the same time.
How are you working to incorporate principles of diversity and inclusiveness into your business? Any tips we haven’t covered? Or anything you disagree with? A little conflict never hurt anyone.