Gone are the days when it’s normal to see offices mostly filled with people from the same town, age group, and university. Organizations are full of much more diverse teams.
Now, it’s normal for an office to have a 50-year-old mid-level employee supervised by a fresh from business school 30-year old. That’s not even considering the diversity of religion, race, gender, political leanings, educational background, and personal beliefs.
Laws against discrimination of all kinds have eliminated blatant racism. However, prejudice and stereotypes can still cloud people’s judgment. This false sense of a ‘team’ ruins people’s ability to work cohesively with each other. As a leader, it’s your responsibility to promote true collaboration that’s not inhibited by the differences of a diverse team. Failure to do this may result in a lack of cooperation. You may also experience a drop in productivity and revenue if you aren’t careful.
Combatting the intrusion of unconscious bias is vital to a company’s success. In fact, the diversity your team provides can drive this success. Different perspectives and different backgrounds can create new ideas. If you want to get your diverse team to be more collaborative, here are ideas.
How to Encourage a Diverse Team to Work Together as One.
1. Build Open and Unbiased Communication Lines Among Team Members.
The first step for a diverse team to come together is to establish a culture of free speech. Your team has to feel that no one will be judged, ridiculed, or laughed at for speaking up. This goes for both widely accepted ideas and creative solutions.
For starters, you can leave all non-management-related decision-making open for dialogue with your team.
For example, at a monthly team meeting, they can talk about upcoming holiday leave and work schedules. Everyone will probably have their own interests and opinions about ‘vacation length’ or ‘unfair work distribution.’ Some might even think you’re playing favorites. Your job is to facilitate the dialogue as a moderator, though, not as their boss. Ensure that everyone’s side is heard, along with their suggested solutions. More open discussion allows the team to make better decisions.
As long as you moderate well, you will see the following. Your team will have gotten to know each other better. (Building up their interpersonal skills- WIN!) They’ll reveal a bit about their personal lives while negotiating for their preferred holiday leave/shift. And they’ll make concessions with each other, too. It’s an excellent way to get to know each other and learn to solve problems or negotiate as a team.
2. Celebrate Achievements as a Team.
Praising individual contributions of employees works well in one-on-one talks. But praising that individual in front of the entire team may backfire in an already estranged group.
The rise of one “star” employee can create unnecessary feelings of bitterness and allegations of favoritism. You may also see an unhealthy spirit of crab mentality in the team. Those not praised will be reluctant to try harder next time. Others may think that working alone is the only way to gain recognition for themselves.
Next time your team accomplishes something, praise them as a whole. When they fail, reprimand or coach them as a team, too. (Your team’s performance affects you and your company’s bottom line, too. So, don’t lose sight of that.)
But how can you implement this, exactly?
Let’s say your team has a monthly quota or performance metric to meet. Most months, two high-performing team members drag your team just across the finish line. As a result, the rest of the team struggles or just goes through the motions.
In this scenario, you can divide your team into two smaller groups. You’d assign one of your high performers to lead each team. Of course, you will emphasize the star employee’s role to help others in improving their performance. Avoid focusing on hitting the quota, though. Instead, focus on performance. This way, you give your top performers a new challenge to conquer. At the same time, these top performers learn to collaborate with their teammates better. This also allows you to give the non-performers hands-on support and coaching.
Your top talent can be better utilized as mentors to share their best work with other group members. Level the playing field a bit, and in turn, you’ll end up with overall better team performance.
Praise in Public. Criticize in Private.
But wait… Doesn’t this advice contradict the old management adage? Praise in public. Criticize in private. Not necessarily. If you spread praise to all of your team members publicly on a consistent basis, you can build great teamwork. The problem that most of us have with this advice, though, is that we typically just don’t praise enough. If we just give a single piece of public praise to a single team member once every month, you might be shooting yourself in the foot. Other team members will think, “I worked harder than her. Why didn’t the boss mention me?”
Also, the advice to praise the entire team is for teams that are estranged. It is another tool to help youbuild more solid teamwork. Once the rapport and trust level increases, then praising in public will give you better results.
3. Don’t Sweep Conflicts Under the Rug Just Because.
Conflicts arise because people have differing opinions. As one would expect with diverse individuals, sometimes, teammates can get onto each other’s nerves. On occasion, they may upset each other’s feelings or unknowingly insult a team member’s idea by opposing it.
Disagreements can interrupt production, yes. But avoiding all conflict is also unhealthy.
I’ve once made the mistake of “venting” to coworkers, only for it to come back to bite me later. It ended up creating a tense relationship that hindered our group performance. If a disagreement sparks because of a difference in opinion about procedures, let it play out. See if the opposing side has a valid idea worth testing.
Don’t just sweep it under the rug by commanding your team to “drop it.” Innovation can arise from conflicts, you know. Conflicts get a bad rap but can create a positive change, too. Conflicts, once resolved, can create new ideas and opportunities. This process drives the company forward.
When You Unite a Diverse Team, You Also Make Recruiting New Team Members Easier.
Follow the steps above, and you will also attract new high-level team members. New hires and potential new employees want to feel part of the family when they’re hired on. Adding the right new people will help feed into the diverse unity you’ve created.
It can be difficult to manage a diverse workplace, especially if you have no plan of action. Build your diverse team by encouraging inclusive behaviors. Remember, there are different ways to do everything. Also, don’t be complacent when you see you first start to see teamwork. Lifetime habits are hard to break. If you take your foot off the gas, you may quickly see all that camaraderie unravel quickly.
Inclusive companies meet the needs of their team by providing a common purpose and supporting a diverse environment. So, first, build open lines of communication. Next, celebrate the team’s achievements. Finally, welcome conflict. Use this conflict to generate breakthrough ways of thinking in your industry.