Lead and Manage a diverse team

Diverse teams are great fun to work in, with refreshing new perspectives but also with their own unique challenges. Some team members respond really well to constructive criticism while others need kid gloves. Some employees prefer to communicate via email, and others are more comfortable talking through issues. We all have colleagues who are enthusiastic contributors and others who are quiet, introverted listeners. The sheer range of such personality types can pose challenges to any manager. Today’s we look at some tips from experts on how to create teams that are seamless use their diversity as a strength.

Cultivate an Emotional Quotient

Kat Boogaard, a writer for The Muse, a New York City-based online career platform, feels managing a diverse team is always challenging, given how unique and different every human being is. Andee Harris, Chief Engagement Officer at HighGround, an HR platform, advocates emotional Intelligence – the ability to recognize your own and other people’s emotions. This, she says, is an important skill for anyone managing a team.

For instance, if an employee is reticent, read between the lines and pick up on cues rather than wait for everything to be explicitly stated. Harris advises leaders to do a deep dive into the personality types of their employees and treat them in ways that are most effective. She believes every single employee has different skills, weaknesses, and things that motivate them. Knowing what those are and leveraging them will help managers find solutions that work for everyone. Boogaard says that dissecting and understanding different employees can often feel like “assembling IKEA furniture”—it can feel complicated and overwhelming but it can be done, given time and patience.

Harris explains, “…understanding the strengths of your employees will help you coach them better. If they’re having trouble with a role, for example, knowing who they are and what’s important to them will help you lead them better. You also need to understand what’s going to make them feel threatened.” She says she’d never make an introverted employee present something in front of the team without adequate notice. “There isn’t a one-size-fits-all management style. Personalization is so important,” says Harris.

Frequent check-ins help

Boogaard observed that frequent sit downs and one-on-one check-ins are effective strategies for staying connected with teams and discussing current workloads, career goals, or other professional concerns. Knowing a little bit about employees’ lives outside of the office can profoundly impact working relationships and enable leaders to be sensitive to any personal issues that may be affecting their professional performance.

Encouragement, empathy, empowerment, and recognising individual contributions go a long way towards making different team members feel that they, and everyone else, matter, whetehr they are the soft-spoken, reticent people or gregarious extroverts.

Conflict can be channeled to create something healthy

Mandy Flint & Elisabet Vinberg Hearn, authors of ”The Team Formula,” claim that creative tension in a diverse team can be used to build a healthy, creative and successful synergy that thrives on mutual learning and innovation.

They say, “Differences can exist in many varieties; cultural, lingual, political, religious, personality, gender, values and/or many others. They are all opportunities. Period.

Differences can also cause conflict. One of the main reasons for this is that when people think they have the “right” answer to something, they tend to stop listening to other perspectives, knowledge, experience and ideas…But if we can see any kind of difference as a creative force, an opportunity for learning and better answers, then we can make the most of the different perspectives they bring.”

They add that when teams operate within a very competitive dynamic, they work in isolation, only coming together occasionally. And even those sessions became unproductive “look at me” competitions where colleagues criticize each other’s strategies and plans. But when team members experience conflict and resolve it, they grow stronger together.

Flint and Vinberg-Hearn explain, “If there is no conflict or looking at things differently, things simply remain the same, and in a world that is in constant evolution, maintaining the status quo is just not enough for a business that wants to thrive. Continuous innovation is a necessity for survival.”

They also offer some solutions to turn different opinions into something productive. Here are a few:

Show your team that the “need to be right” is counter-productive.

Remind yourself that your opinion or your solution might not be the right or only one.

The first step to managing conflict is to welcome it, not fear it.

When two or more people have differing opinions, start by viewing it as a good thing and then glean what is best from both.

Encourage your team to ask questions and take an interest in each other’s strategies and plans. Invite and engage people in discussions, healthy debates and exchanges.

Create an environment of positive intent where everyone looks for positives in each other.

Get people behind a common purpose and get them to agree upon a shared commitment to that purpose.

If there is competitive behaviour in your team, then having connected goals will make that behaviour impossible to carry on with.

Figure out what each person is best at, what their strengths are. Know them, make the most of them. This reduces the risk of unhealthy competition as people feel unique and the need for such competition diminishes.

Communicate, communicate, communicate. Differences and tensions are often the result of lack of communication, of incorrect and unnecessary assumptions. As a leader, communicate openly with your team at regular intervals to create the right atmosphere.

Diversity is good for business

Kirsten Blakemore and Mattson Newell write in Inc.com that boosting and managing diversity in the workplace provides a competitive advantage. They say, “According to a report that appeared in Scientific American, decades of research show that working with diverse people encourages us to push the normal boundaries and to think differently. It encourages creativity and innovation…McKinsey’s research shows that gender-diverse companies are 15% more likely to outperform their peers and ethnically-diverse companies are 35% more likely to do the same. Even so, many leaders talk the talk when it comes to diversity and inclusion, but too few walk the walk. This is because knowing that you need a diverse workforce is not the same as understanding how to manage diversity.”

They add, “the biggest mistake managers make is applying the same management style for each person on their team. This results in poor management, which can have a negative impact on a company, from low morale to high turnover–the exact opposite of what a dynamic, well-managed diverse workforce can deliver.”

So what is key to managing diversity? Blakemore and Newell offer a solution: “Adjust your leadership style depending on the person or the situation….race, age, gender, or any number of qualities…make your workforce unique, how you manage one person may not be the way to manage, motivate, and lead another.”

Effectively managing diversity in the workplace, they say, starts by focusing on three things:

1) Connection

2) Creative Collaboration

3) Constant Communication

How do we improve in these parameters? Set your team up for success by clearly identifying company and department goals. Communicate what is expected of them to deliver on those goals – and then let them creatively collaborate on how to achieve them. And set checkpoints along the way to ensure alignment around goals. The intention of checkpoints is not to micromanage but to offer continuous support, keep the team on point, and clear obstacles to success.

Keep learning, keep teaching

Alica Forneret writes in Cultureamp.com that continued success requires continuous learning and if you’re struggling to manage a diverse mix of people on your team, don’t worry. Everyone, she says, has to begin somewhere and it’s better to start now rather than never. Here are a few of her tips:

1) Keep intersectionality in mind while dealing with a team and look beyond race, gender, age, sexual orientations, cultures, political affiliations, socio-economic status, religions, or physical abilities.

2) Don’t let your biases hinder you from seeing others.

3) Create safe spaces for any kind of feedback.

4) Cultivate conflict mediation strategies.

5) Cultivate and teach respect for different needs, values, customs, and personal boundaries – all factors that impact teams with diverse people.

6) Make your team aware of unconscious biases and use cross-cultural coaches to smoothen cultural differences.

7) Be aware that everything you do affects the way your team functions. This includes:

* The way you make decisions about hiring

* The way you speak with different individuals

* The way you delegate tasks around the office

* The way your organization handles celebrations or social events

Empathise, and use active listening to help your team navigate tough spots.

Cultivate Cultural Intelligence Quotient (CQ) , which is the ability to relate and work effectively with people from different cultural backgrounds. Because what divides us can also strengthen us.



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