Assembling a Diverse Team Is Only the First Step

Article main image
Sep 1, 2016

What’s all this about diversity?

When I do organization renewal work, I insist that I work through an internal team. My clients always agree — as long as the team is “diverse.” Everyone seems to understand the meaning of “diverse” so it goes unchallenged and the team gets formed.

That’s when the fun begins. People sign onto the team and become “advocates” for their unique point of view. But is that the purpose of diversity? Is diversity the same as “representation?” I think not.

Change teams have a purpose and that is to move an organization from where it is toward an aiming point –- a place that may be unclear but a promised land nonetheless. The work demands that the team pull in one direction, not in diverse directions; and that direction is new, something that none of the team members has experienced before.

The team members must unify around the mandate and a set of values they all believe in. Forcing diversity through a top down dictum cannot do this; nor can the diverse members acting in their own self-interests do it. The team must find its core and then integrate the diverse voices. Building a change team is like building a family -– everyone one must be heard and respected but at the end of the day, it’s the welfare of the family that must win out.

The family metaphor also demonstrates how difficult it is to add new voices to the team. What happens to the family when one of the children gets married? I often hear people say they will invite the spouse into their family. Not so, I rebuke. The spouse is not an addition to your family. If your family is to succeed, it just changed. It will never be the same. There are 120 permutations in a family of 5 – the wedding changed that to 6 people and 720 permutations. The family changed exponentially by adding one new voice.

Uniting the diversity

The same is true in organizations. Adding diversity to a team isn’t about bringing people to the table and then asking them to conform or keeping them on the outside. The diverse talents must be united into a unique force. How do you do this? Here are some suggestions:

  • Don’t recruit for diversity. Recruit for talent that exists within people who have diverse backgrounds.
  • Focus on what’s important to the team. Why is it there? What values need to be shared? What emotions tie members together?
  • Be aware when the team is keeping individuals on the outside; equally, be aware when individuals only act as special interest advocates.

We are in an age of diversity. Listening to diverse voices is not enough; we must learn how to listen across the voices if we are to create worlds that have been beyond our reach.