Co-written by Phil Fraim and Zindaba Tembo
From Diversity to a Diverse Team
Phil Fraim, President and CEO
The topic of diversity and inclusion is an important one. However, it is also one that people have heard so many presentations about and been involved in so many educational or training sessions on that they have become weary or desensitized. That is not to infer this is a reasonable reaction, or even understandable. Rather, merely an observation based on statements some have made.
Someone once said that if we do not look for diversity, we will never find it. This was said from the standpoint that we need more diversity within various organizations and groups – but does that mean that once found, we sit back and feel virtuous that we are complete? It is certainly still true today that we need more diversity in groups and organizations, but we want to look at it from a little different angle. How do we take the diversity, which is now present within many organizations, and bring together this diverse group into a viable team that helps highlight a brand, attracts clients and builds customer loyalty?
We are conditioned to look for “different than us” and in doing so, different becomes all we see. It creates dysfunction. How do we get over that hump and take a group that is different and make a team? We need a framework that allows members to connect and collaborate because so much of what we do in the world requires collaboration. For this to be effective, it has to be done without it being “them” and “us.” It has to be totally about the team, and as we all know, there is no “I” in team.
We all come from different backgrounds, or at least different experiences, and we have inherent biases based upon those experiences. To make people with different experiences a cohesive team, there first has to be a vision or a mission which unifies, and goals established from that vision.
A good example is a NBA team. There may not be equal numbers within the diverse groups represented, but there is vast diversity. The vision is pretty clear, be the best NBA team. The goal is a championship. Game prep includes the development of strategies. Once the game begins, successful teams all pull in one direction with a clear purpose, regardless of differing nationalities, ethnic origins or skin color. This includes efforts to put each other in a position that exhibits the individual’s strengths in the team’s best interest.
Creating Unity and Inclusion
Zindaba Tembo, Data Strategy Analyst
“Diversity is being invited to the party; inclusion is being asked to dance.” – Verna Meyers
Like Phil said, once we have diversity, what do we do with it? So what if you have a team with people from different backgrounds? How do we include that in our teams so it does not just exist but translates into productivity? Granted, a diverse workforce has diverse ideas and skills, but how do we draw out those ideas so they increase the bottom line?
The benefits, such as productivity, can only be reaped if the work environment is favorable for diverse thinking. It requires teams and management to open up to tough conversations, look introspectively and recognize that – like it or not – we have a bias towards people who are not like us. This is the starting point, acknowledging that our brains like to oversimplify and operate through shortcuts called “stereotypes” or “biases.” It requires teams to find the strength to have interactions, acknowledge, accept and embrace people and ideas that are different.
So, how do we build a team concept of unity that includes diversity?
- Value diversity. Foster an environment where employees can dance even without being asked to. This should be part of your work culture. Create an environment where it is okay to be different. When employees feel like they must hide who they are because they feel “unsafe,” it weakens morale and can have a negative effect on productivity. For example, I am from a foreign country and I speak multiple languages, so my tongue tends to roll in a different way compared to native English speakers. So, when I mispronounce a word, my colleagues sometimes ask me to repeat in order to gain clarity or try to help me enunciate it better, sometimes we may laugh about it or they simply accommodate that my tongue rolls a different way. I do not feel discouraged to speak because the environment is cognizant of and accepts that I am not a native English speaker. Being able to create a safe space for employees to be who they are increases morale which translates into productivity. Also, a safe space encourages employees to express their opinion without fear of repercussions or fear of being labeled as “different.” This in turn increases unity and fosters the exchange of diverse ideas.
- Encourage team building activities and collaboration between diverse individuals. Phil and I have multiple differences such as gender, age, race and nationality. To outline a minor difference in generations, he uses a calculator that prints paper, which I always find fascinating. Despite the fact that I must hear the calculator printing every single time we have a mathematical calculation, we work well together. None of our major or minor differences deter us from accomplishing the tasks that are set in front of us. Being able to work together on multiple projects helps employees interact with other employees. It is through these interactions that we discover our differences but also realize that we have a lot of similarities. Encouraging collaboration on projects can help build unity in diverse teams.
- Actively implement strategies that promote diversity. People from different backgrounds offer different perspectives which results in innovate products. When leaders of the organization include diversity in hiring practices or day-to-day organizational tasks, they stimulate diversity (eg., a multigenerational labor force attracts a wider pool of talent for the firm and can also increase customer retention). Millennials are more cognizant of company values and will often show loyalty to companies whose values match their own. Multi-generational firms have less difficulty with succession planning, reinventing themselves, penetrating new markets and adapting to changes in the way business is done. Diversity can improve the bottom line not just from outside but also from within the firm.
The one thing we all have in common is the fact that we are all different and unique. Diversity breeds innovation, builds employee morale and loyalty, gives a firm access to a wider talent pools as well as improves the bottom line, but it does not work in a vacuum. It requires intentional strategies that foster unity and productivity in diverse teams.