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There is no doubt that for many years there has not been enough diversity within high performing teams. Too much group think, too many missed opportunities and others being excluded based on comfort and similarity. One of the benefits though, has been that when we all think alike and are similar in many ways, conflict is low, alignment is strong and working together is “easy” because we have little difference to understand or debate.

In our modern world we understand the need for differing opinion, points of view, experiences and representation from many and multiple perspectives, but is this modern approach causing fractures within your team?

Recently I was invited to sit in on an executive group as they conducted their normal monthly leadership team meeting. They are quite evolved as they hold these separate to their WIP (work in progress updates). My role was to observe and provide feedback on how they worked together and made decisions.

About half way through when they were exploring a new idea, I saw one senior manager explain their position to another. The other senior leader then explained their position back. With two very different positions the first manager had little similarity to build on, so explained why they were thinking in that manner and the other manager did the same. This went back and forth for about twenty minutes until they both gave up in exhaustion. Noting also, both were very calm and respectful which probably kept the conversation going for so long!

I asked the group “Do you find that you have great discussions which peter out and you get frustrated that you don’t make any decisions and therefore no compelling actions?”. The CEO stood up and said, “That’s been my whole experience with this group for the past 18 months”.

You see, the problem was they had too much diversity and not enough similarity of thought. They didn’t have enough common ground to acknowledge, build on and then explore the points of difference. They spent all their time explaining their points of view to be understand and heard.

If you feel your team is not working as smoothly as they could be, here are the triggers to see if diversity is limiting your performance;

  • The team talks a lot but can’t seem to agree
  • Actions are limited or not executed as agreed
  • There is a meeting before the meeting and one again after the meeting about the meeting
  • Trust is low in your team

It can be very frustrating for all when there is no strong “we’ in the group. People in your team don’t feel safe, they are confused, frustrated and spend a lot of energy trying to make sense of how to navigate the team environment. If you’re feeling as though your team is experiencing these traits and you’re worried you don’t have a high performing team, don’t worry, you don’t!

Very often the outliers within the group leave. No one wants to work in an environment where you’re constantly on look out, walking on egg shells and trying to make sense of the environment.

There are three things that your team should do to create unity and value the difference that each other bring

  1. Create a very strong galvanising external focus for the group
  2. Set up agreements about how difference will be heard, validated and actioned within the team
  3. Keeping discussions at the table.

We are all very predictable about what we value and don’t value. Without understanding of these elements individually and across the team, then at best, your team will be operating with its eyes closed.

What’s your experience with managing diversity within your team?