Diversity in successful organisations
Imagine a team that has the ability to holistically grapple with issues, regardless of their nature – technical, relational, generational, political, or social. How would you create such a team? Rarely such eloquence in skills is so far reaching in a single individual.
The answer is quite simple, actually. We need to ensure that the teams we create are made of individuals who have different perspectives, different points of view, different backgrounds, and different life perspectives.
So now that we have the solution, how do we piece together such a team? By valuing and living out the benefits of diversity (age, gender, and race to name a few) in the formulation of a team. For example, there was a study which examined the ethnic identity of the authors of 1.5 million scientific papers written between 1985 and 2008. This study found that papers written by diverse groups receive more citations and have higher impact factors than papers written by people from the same ethnic group. In academia and research, references are generally seen as an acknowledgement of excellence.
But embracing diversity alone is not the answer. If the team is not united, nor carries the required mix of skills and abilities, you will never get the “best” team. In addition, the team must have a shared vision, and live with an agreed set of values. They must be inspired by the vision, and happy because of the culture created by such values. This is the same issue, from my perspective, that either makes or breaks multiculturalism.
There are, of course, challenges within diverse teams. It is easy, and more comfortable, to build a team of “like” individuals. In contrast, building a diverse team takes more effort, and will push managers to a greater level of uncertainty, into the “unknown.” Therefore, building a diverse team requires a conscious decision from the onset. This decision must be initiated by an understanding that the benefits of team diversity outweigh the associated challenges.
Once diversity is embraced, we must take it upon ourselves to gain a meaningful understanding of our people. What are the challenges faces by the individuals in our diverse team? How can we make our organisations better places, and thereby reflect this to those whom we touch?
Of course, there is the potential for issues. The world provides us with countless examples of countries that become divided from within when dealing with the issues of plural societies; my birthplace (Sri Lanka) being one of them. Regardless of whether we embrace diverse teams or not, we must never be fearful of encountering these realities in any aspect of life.
The real question remains; what type of teams, organisations, and leaders do we aspire to be? I hope that we aspire to a legacy of greatness, and acceptance of differences as a strength rather than a weakness, and that this underpins the need to have a diverse and unified workforce.
Written by Soyun Punyadasa, CMP Consulting Group
 Collaboration: Strength in diversity, Richard B. Freeman and Wei Huang reflect on a link between a team's ethnic mix and highly cited papers. 14 September 2014
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