How To Bring A Greater Diversity Of Ideas To Your Teams

Greg is CEO of CareerGig, host of the Agile World podcast, and author of The Agile Consumer.

The old cliché goes something like, “If your only tool is a hammer, then every problem looks like a nail.” While hammers do a fine job with a limited set of problems (putting nails in walls, for instance), there is a reason why a toolbox has a variety of different tools in it. Not every problem can be solved with the same approach, and having as diverse a toolbox as possible means that you can ensure that you are best equipped for whatever project or task comes your way.

Like a toolbox, having a diverse workforce brings a greater wealth of ideas, approaches and problem-solving capabilities. In my career, I’ve worked as a consultant to help companies of all sizes — from Fortune 100 corporations to small nonprofits — optimize their employee experience to drive organizational growth. I’ve often recommended a diversified approach to talent, and successful organizations are able to translate this into tangible business results. Let’s explore three dimensions of diversity that you can start to apply to your workforce to get better results.

Racial, Ethnic And Gender Diversity

According to research by McKinsey & Company, companies with greater racial, ethnic and gender diversity are more likely to have higher financial returns than less diverse companies. While there are many reasons for this, McKinsey suggests that “more diverse companies … are better able to win top talent and improve their customer orientation, employee satisfaction, and decision making.” A group of people with different backgrounds can solve a wider array of challenges compared to groups that have a more homogeneous background. The diversity of ideas and ways to solve problems means that you have a team that is looking at things from multiple angles, and not getting hung up on the same assumptions.

While there are several ways to approach creating a team with greater racial, ethnic and gender diversity, for many organizations, it starts with making your intentions to be more diverse clear. Ask yourself: Are you biased in the way you screen candidates or even in the places where you look for talent? Taking a second look at your starting point might show some immediate ways you can increase diversity.

Diversity In External Versus Internal Workers

Another way to look at diversity is the makeup of teams from the standpoint of full-time internal employees versus external contract or freelance workers. Including external talent on your teams can bring a unique type of diversity to your work. As the CEO of a company that connects freelancers and contract workers with companies that may want to hire them, it’s probably unsurprising that I encourage you to hire external talent, but I’ve seen how they can bring valuable perspectives to teams.

Most external consultants, contractors and freelancers have been exposed to a diverse set of challenges and solutions. Instead of spending all of their time working for one company, and within its policies, processes, platforms and other restrictions, this workforce is out in the world experiencing a wider set of issues, and thus can bring fresh ideas to the table.

One way to get started on creating greater diversity in external versus internal workers is to identify roles on a project or team that you don’t need 100% of the time but that would be incredibly helpful to have sometimes. Some of those roles could be given to external talent who can provide not only expertise but also an outside perspective.

Diversity In Subject Matter Expertise

Finally, on a team tasked with solving a problem, it is important to include people with different types of subject matter expertise. When I was a consultant, I would sometimes work with companies where one team tended to dominate the decision making on a project, often with disastrous results.

For instance, a web application that was planned, designed, coded, tested and deployed solely by an internal IT team had some serious issues. As great as that team was at writing code, they weren’t user experience designers, nor were they audience research experts. So instead of a great product that met the audience’s needs, the company had an application built by software engineers, and solely from their perspective. Needless to say, it worked great and the code was beautifully written, but it was a nightmare to use.

Any team can benefit from bringing in complementary experts with diverse backgrounds and subject matter expertise. You might be tempted to save time or money by reducing the headcount of your team, but you’ll likely pay for it in the long run because a homogeneous team may not be able to think of how to solve a wide set of problems nearly as well as a diverse one.

To make sure you include a broader range of subject matter experts on your next project, ask yourself what team members who specialize in tangentially related disciplines might be able to contribute to make the project better.

These three ways to look at building a greater diversity of ideas can help you and your teams be more successful. It is important to remember that upfront investments in diversity can yield higher returns in the long-term.


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