Team diversity

A measure of a team's success

By Dina D'Avirro Varacalli

Team diversity

Diversity is thought of as a measure of the variety of components, or portions of composition of something, in other words, what something is made up of. Diversity isn’t normally a measure of outcome. But more and more, studies are telling us just that, the diversity of a team can predict the success of that team.

Diversity can increase team success and inspire greater innovation. Diversity is often still looked at as something to comply with out of political correctness or, best case, the right thing to do. Diversity is not often seen as a business priority. Most people don’t think that diversity has anything to do with immediate goals of hitting numbers and delivering product. We now know that’s just not true. One recent study showed that companies with at least 20% diversity at the leadership level, had almost double the income derived directly from innovation over companies with less that 20% diversity. A study of 366 public companies showed those in the top quartile for ethnic and racial diversity in management were 35% more likely to have financial returns above their industry mean, and those in the top quartile for gender diversity were 15% more likely to have higher returns. Another analysis of 2,400 companies globally, showed having at least one female board member yielded significantly higher return on equity and higher net income growth than those that didn’t have any women on the board.

What is it about diversity that it could change a team’s behavior and outcome? Why does diversity have an impact? It is important to note that diversity includes age, gender, race, culture, religion, education, wealth, creed and nationality differences amongst others.

Diversity makes teams smarter. When working with others that are different from you, you are challenged to see different perspectives, to expand your analysis of problems, to incorporate other points of view, and to push outside your comfort zone, right into the land of innovation and achievement. Diverse teams challenge each other and create a learning environment which is highly motivating.

If you have a craving to make tomato soup, would you just squish tomatoes and boil them? No, because any one-note dish is bland and boring and doesn’t make a meal. You might add some olive oil to balance the acidity, you might use some carrots, celery and onions as aromatics, different spices would give different tones to the taste and adding salt and pepper enhance all the flavors. In the end, you wouldn’t have warm juice, you would have a delicious, satisfying soup. A diverse team is like a recipe with different components that balance each other out and all add a little something that in the end make things better overall.

Diverse teams focus more on facts, which lead to improved and more accurate group thinking. Diverse teams re-examine the facts given, remain more objective, and scrutinize their own actions, being vigilant about their biases. Diverse teams process information more carefully, leading to better decisions. Scientists think that diverse teams outperform homogeneous ones because they process information more thoughtfully. Because diverse teams challenge each other and analyze information more carefully from different perspectives, they are more innovative in their solutions, creating delicious soup, or innovative, better products.

A diverse team is built from the ground up. If you think your one Asian, foreign-national female has your bases covered and you can totally check off the diversity box, you haven’t been paying attention. A diverse team results in the whole team working smarter, thinking and analyzing better, innovating together. One lone voice, or worse, several muted voices won’t cut it. Paying lip service to diversity with token members won’t create a diverse team. In the end, you want to build a whole diverse team, not a whole team with members belonging to different minorities.

Having a team culture of inclusivity is the first step to leveraging the strengths of a diverse team. A team where thoughts are shared freely and not immediately judged, where people feel comfortable expressing opinions, where different perspectives are welcomed, is the culture where a diverse team will flourish.

A communicative, respectful team environment is a good kitchen to cook up your diverse team. Conversely, a team that operates with open and respectful communication yet continues to focus on change and growth will benefit from diversity. This diverse, collaborative team, as studies have shown, will outperform their counterparts with successful, innovative solutions.

A diverse team needs all the right ingredients. If you try to start making soup for dinner and all you have on hand are tomatoes and salt, you will be disappointed. But that’s all you have in the kitchen to work with, you argue! I would suggest you start re-evaluating your shopping practices.

Having a diverse team requires hiring quality, diverse talent. But if you start from a homogeneous pool, that’s impossible. Firstly, remember that studies have shown, teams of individual rock stars are out performed and out innovated by mixed-ability, diverse teams. Secondly, decide if you can diversify your candidate pool. Work with agencies that focus on diversity, recruit from events for diverse candidates, visit schools with diverse student populations. Find ways to draw from sources of diversified talent and you’ll expand your choice of quality candidates.

A high-performing teams benefit from longevity, which means, developing and retaining your diverse talent. When people are valued and developed, they want to stay. Becoming an inclusive, diverse work environment quickly becomes a self-fulfilling situation. Quality, diverse talent will be attracted to your team resulting in longstanding, high-performance, diverse teams. Building, growing and keeping a quality, diverse team will reap rewards of increased performance and innovation.

When you start getting compliments on your delicious soup from people who assumed you couldn’t cook to save your life, you’ll be able to explain that it’s about creating a well-rounded, rich flavor with varied, quality ingredients and a bit of know-how (and perseverance) to get them to all simmer together just right. Bon Appetite!