4.16.2018

Diversity is the Killer App

Don't take it from me: Harvard Business School says that diversity is what makes teams better. If "The Two Traits of the Best Problem-Solving Teams," is tl;dr for you, let me boil it down for you: (1) cognitively diverse and (2) psychologically safe.

This is a simple but profound finding, and one that should motivate those of us who do work in teams, who form teams, and who seek to do good work, in whatever the field.  Diversifying your groups, whether they be staffs, boards, or one-off project teams, is non-negotiable.  If you don't have different perspectives represented around your table, you're not putting yourself in the best position possible to succeed.

But hang on a sec.  Most people stop there.  Maybe they've finally realized that lack of diversity will get punished in the court of public opinion.  Maybe they've even realized that lack of diversity is literally a drag on the organization's ability to do its best work.  So they've put in the hard work to diversify their teams, and then they put themselves on the back for doing so.

But that's only one half of the equation.  That's like putting the best players on a field but then paying no attention to positions, plays, or team chemistry.  Diversity only works if each participant is bringing their full selves to the table, sharing that full self with others, and receiving from others.  If we have diverse teams but people don't feel safe being their true selves, we haven't yet unlocked the power of diversity. 

So we need to diversify our teams.  And we need to make safe spaces for team members to be themselves and to engage with others.  To feel free to make mistakes, to disagree, and to challenge.  To say "I don't know" at times, and to instruct others at other times. 

Think about the teams you are a part of.  Are they firing on all cylinders in this way?  If not, what do you need to do about it?  The success of your work depends on your answer.

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