The benefits of diverse teams are increasingly recognised, but what about the challenges? We examine the skills required to get the very best out of your diverse team.
If you’re in the enviable position of managing a diverse team, congratulations. You’ve reached the Holy Grail of 21st-century team-building and can expect to reap an impressive range of benefits including increased productivity, a greater breadth of experience and (most importantly) a higher likelihood of unlocking game-changing innovation.
But for inexperienced managers or for those who have never had any significant degree of diversity in their teams before, the task can be daunting. Is managing a diverse group of people any different to managing a homogeneous team? Do managers need to bring any particular leadership skills to bear?
In short - yes, they do. Let’s look at five key leadership skills that all managers should aspire to master, but are vastly more important for managers of diverse team.
Leadership skills for successfully managing diversity
Managers of diverse teams know the importance of inclusive language. This doesn’t mean you have to painstakingly choose every word with care, but it does help to deploy some level of awareness when communicating both verbally and otherwise. To give a classic example, don’t send an email to a group of men and women with the salutation “Hi guys!”.
Representation is another key factor in inclusivity. If you have the opportunity to hire or promote a high-performing, diverse team member into a leadership position, don’t hesitate to do so. Nothing undermines an organisation’s diversity efforts so much as having a homogeneous group of (caucasian, male, middle-aged) senior leaders without a diverse leader in sight.
To state an obvious point, it’s vital that you aren’t harder on people who are different to you. But it’s also important to ensure you aren’t easier on diverse team members either. Doing so comes across as patronising, creates resentment in others, and will not allow that team member to grow and develop through constructive feedback and learning from their mistakes.
Fairness means ensuring everyone in your team, without exception, has an equal level of opportunity to prove their abilities, excel in their roles, and win subsequent recognition and reward.
3. Celebration of difference
This is arguably the number one secret to successfully managing a diverse team. Do not try to make everybody equally proficient across all the skill-sets your business requires. Instead, recognise, celebrate and leverage your diverse team members’ unique talents and abilities. As a result, you’ll end up with a crack team of T-shaped professionals specialising in different areas.
Managers of diverse teams must be able to create an environment where people of all backgrounds and experience feel safe to voice their thoughts, opinions or dissent. This may mean adjusting your meeting style - while some team members may feel comfortable participating in a fast-paced, rapid-fire meeting, others may prefer to have more time and thinking space before making their contribution.
Safety in a literal sense is also vital. Sadly, diverse staff are more likely to experience harassment and bullying than others, which is why it’s vital to keep a sharp eye out for any signs of this behaviour and act upon it immediately when required.
Check your communication style. Are you being understood by everyone in your team? Be flexible in the way you convey and receive information with culturally diverse team members. Avoid jargon, and minimise non-verbal communication which may be misunderstood or missed by others. Properly used, good communication can build effective relationships, mutual trust and confidence across diverse backgrounds.