When diversity in a team doesn’t work

Diversity is good right? That’s the prevailing wisdom.

Increasing gender diversity at the leadership level is the stated aim of many large organisations. Numerous studies have confirmed the value of gender diversity. A Gallup study# of more than 800 business units from two companies found that gender-diverse business units had better financial outcomes than those dominated by one gender.

One of my frustrations is that the ‘diversity discussion’ is usually a discussion of gender diversity. It’s 2015 people! Why we still need to have this conversation is beyond me, when women have been able to vote in Australia for over 100 years (since 1895 in South Australia and 1908 in Victoria). And yes, I have seen the numbers, and I agree that this discussion is still necessary.

It’s diversity of thinking styles in teams that is of most interest to me. Perhaps you have experienced the value of diverse of thinking styles in a team? Diverse thinking styles results from many sources, including diversity in gender, cultural background, professional experience, and education, as well as diversity in communication preferences and leadership styles.

So why is it so hard to work with people who have different views and approaches to us?

Despite positive intentions, frustration and tension can result from diverse thinking styles around the executive table— reaching decisions can become challenging.

In low performing teams: difference = wrong!

Diversity of style can create misunderstanding and friction. In low- performing teams where trust is limited, difference is often seen to equal wrong. This can lead to judgment, further reducing trust and damaging the fabric of the team.

In high performing teams: difference = difference!

When levels of trust are high, diversity of style leads to the interest, challenge and creative tension that stimulate constructive conflict and new ideas. Difference is simply that – difference!

How diverse are the thinking styles in your team? How well are you harnessing that diversity? Could misunderstanding and judgment be getting in the way?

What are your thoughts on diversity and trust? Love to hear your ideas, so join the conversation by leaving a comment here.