Many of us have heard for quite a few years that we want to be the ones with “the best team on the field.” In law firms, this typically refers to a well-rounded, effective team of lawyers to pitch work for a potential client. But, this also should be something we keep in mind in everything that we do in our jobs – when assembling the teams of people that work for us, when thinking about members of various teams, committees, task forces, steering committees, etc. It is always important to create the “best team.” And, in order for a team to really be the best, it needs to be diverse.
Before we can talk about how to build a diverse team, we need to first establish a common definition of what a diverse team really is. There are so many dimensions to diversity that go beyond what we typically think of: race, age, and gender. In fact, it is precisely these other facets of diversity that add the most to team dynamics:
• Thinking Styles
Everyone approaches things differently. Just as there are different types of learning styles and preferences, there are also different ways of thinking about things and solving problems. Stop and think about it for a minute. What if you had a team made up completely of “left brain” thinkers — those individuals that enjoy looking at things in a logical, sequential way? You may get a lot of things done and processes mapped out, but you might miss the bigger picture. And, conversely, what if you had a group of all “right brain” processors, those that need to understand the why behind something first and tend to be more artistic and creative? You might not get the nuts and bolts hammered out as efficiently. In The Art of Thinking, the authors break down thinking styles further into five categories: Synthesists, Idealists, Pragmatists, Analysts, and Realists. Any team would greatly benefit from having a balance of all of these different thinking styles represented.
• Life Experiences
What is so great (and, sometimes so frustrating) is that we all bring our own life experience with us and these experiences infuse our daily actions and thoughts at work. What this means is that individuals will differ in their opinions and disagree on how to approach things. As long as a group has built a basis of trust amongst themselves, this kind of diverse thinking and conflict is healthy and, in fact, quite desirable. Patrick Lencioni addresses this in his book The Five Dysfunctions of a Team when he identifies the second dysfunction as Fear of Conflict, or “…the desire to preserve artificial harmony stifles the occurrence of productive ideological conflict.”
• Introversion vs. Extroversion
Sure, extroverts may be the ones that make the greatest first impression, but don’t count introverts out, especially when it comes to team dynamics. Both types of people have their own innate strengths that they bring to a team. Extroverts will share their thoughts freely and can often be the greatest advocates and salespeople for a new initiative. Introverts, on the other hand, naturally tend to be better listeners and collaborators. Now, yes, these are quite sweeping generalizations, but the point to remember here is that each brings a unique skill set to the team and each is equally valuable. Susan Cain, author of Quiet, discusses introverts as leaders in her TED talk.
The bottom line is that diverse opinions mean better ideas. Better ideas lead to innovation and greater efficiency in all of the things we’re tasked with doing in our jobs every day. Putting together “the most diverse team on the field” goes a long way towards achieving this goal.