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Characteristics of Highly Effective Teams: Diversity

by Julie Dennie

In highly collaborative workplaces, and ours is, highly effective teams are a competitive advantage. Teams impact every aspect of our business — from engagement and retention to client happiness and growth to productivity and beyond. And an important characteristic of highly effective teams is diversity. Research shows that non-homogenous teams are simply better — they’re more objective, they focus more on facts, and they’re smarter.

And there are few kinds of diversity to consider:

Demographic diversity (good!)

Studies have found that companies with racial, ethnic, and gender diversity make more money and are more innovative. A McKinsey study found that companies in the top quartile for ethnic and racial diversity in management were 35% more likely to have above average financial returns for their industry, and those in the top quartile for gender diversity were 15% more likely to have returns above their industry medians. So demographic diversity is clearly a positive.

Deep-level diversity (good!)

In addition to demographic diversity, highly effective teams feature “deep-level” diversity, or psychological diversity — things like personality, abilities, style, values, and DiSC profile would fall into this category. There are some significant pros to this kind of diversity as well. It hinders consensus, which can be really good. Working with people who think differently than you helps you to be more aware of your own biases and to question your assumptions, which leads to smarter and more objective thinking.

Value-goal diversity (not so good!)

However, if a team is not aligned about values and goals, trust breaks down and interpersonal conflict intensifies. In order to effectively leverage diversity, the group needs to be aligned on a set of values and goals so that members can trust that, while other members may think differently, their intentions are the same; they’re working towards the same things.

So, how can we leverage diverse thinking in our teams?

Ensure each person has a way to weigh in

Be mindful that people with different styles do this differently. Some people can voice their perspective on the spot, while others will do much better if we give them a heads up and allow time for preparation.

Encourage divergent perspectives

We should give minority styles the floor first and ask others to think like that style. People often hesitate to voice disagreement with an idea that gets early, visible support. When even one person goes against the majority, the likelihood that others will offer divergent perspectives increases greatly.

Pull your opposites closer

Opposite styles can balance each other out in really effective ways, but it takes time, effort, and trust. We can build complementary partnerships by intentionally collaborating on small projects, working out the kinks, and building from there.

Think like a consultant

Ask yourself what is best for the company, even if it diminishes the power held by one department or one individual. Be objective and open. Seek to understand, and consider varying arguments.

Share knowledge

Diversity can’t impact creativity unless people are actually exchanging ideas. Studies have found higher levels of creativity in groups that are more interconnected. So build a culture that supports interaction and knowledge transfer.


So there you have it! Value diversity, consider other people’s perspectives, and ask yourself: what’s one thing I can start doing right now to leverage diverse thinking?

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