Leveraging Diversity as a Business Opportunity: Capturing the Creativity of Each Individual Team Member.

eggs-in-blue-bowl-1623490The case for the benefits of a diverse corporate culture is well made.  Report after report, measure after measure prove to us that (1) the financial benefits of balanced company boards cannot be underestimated (2) the case for what is often referred to as ‘feminine leadership’ is becoming incontestable, and (3) talk of business survival in the future appears to hinge on that business’ ability to adapt to a more flexible, more collaborative style of management. [1]

So if your company is considering diversity for the sake of diversity, for the sake of appearances or for the sake of complying with client demands, it is missing a trick!  Embracing diversity – the traits which we refer to as 21st century leadership – must become central to any leadership strategy of a company that wants to continue to thrive in the future.

But where do you start?

In my last post, I talked about mirroring the client’s team composition in your own.  This post is about getting the most out of each individual team member, thereby making the most out of the diverse pool of talent that populates our teams.

Stephen Covey famously said “Strength lies in differences, not in similarities.”   This makes sense.  After all, what can we learn from someone who has the same views, upbringing and experiences as we do?  Not much!  It may feel more comfortable to have a colleague confirm our decisions, but it doesn’t make that decision better.   Well-considered decisions are those that have been scrutinised from as many perspectives as possible.  Understanding what the repercussions of our decisions might have (like Brexit) requires scrutiny from every angle.   And that can only be achieved if we allow each person to contribute fully and authentically.

Team leaders who understand the strength of diversity recruit diverse teams; teams that are represented by different experiences, personalities, preferences and traits.  It’s only then that a team leader may be able to hope to deliver the most effective and impactful team.

But how does one bring out the contribution of each team member?  After all, a diverse team also means that each person will have a different preference in the way they contribute, participate and respond!  And in a typical meeting, 70% of contribution at a meeting comes from 30% of contributors.

There are a number of strategies that team leaders can employ to change this dynamic. As a starting point, the team leader’s role should be to set up the meeting in advance in such a way that everyone knows they are expected and welcome to contribute.  Meetings should not be about sharing unilateral information; any information that needs to be shared with the team by their leader should be sent in advance or shared in a way that does not require face-to-face interaction.  Meetings are the team leader’s opportunity to benefit from the team’s thinking and should therefore be set up to motivate team members to deliver their best thinking.

One way to do so is to understand in advance what contribution you want from the team and set the agenda for the meeting with this in mind.  What is it that you want the team to accomplish?  Is it to come up with a new strategy?  To discuss the pipeline? To consider the financial results of the team to-date?  Whatever the aim, when setting the agenda, a team leader should ensure it is clear from the agenda what that objective of the meeting is.

We also know that our brains think best in the presence of a question.  Therefore, the best way to set up an agenda is to turn each agenda item into a question.  Item One, for example, might be: “Minutes from last meeting:  How can we ensure that all residual actions are completed?”. Item Two might be: “Strategic Direction:  How does your role fit into the bigger strategy of the company?”.  And so on.

This way, each participant understands that not only are they requested to attend but they are also expected to answer the questions on the agenda in the form of a discussion.

Once you have introduced the agenda in the form of questions, the meeting itself will run very differently, with most members standing ready to contribute.  There are a number of other meeting applications that will ensure the questions are then fully addressed and discussed by each member, which I will share with you in a future publication.  If you can’t wait, do get in touch with us so that we can help you transform your meetings into effective business solutions.