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Six ways to make our differences help, not hinder everyone in the group

June 8, 2017

Want to become a sought-after, connective leader, the invaluable glue that holds groups together? Here are some methods that enable you to do so.

1. Experience the freedom of agreed upon constraints
To create a common ground on which we could get more done with less friction, we agreed on a few simple rules, including that we could agree to change rules as we went along. Since a newly-formed team is not accustomed to working together, it has not yet developed bad or good team habits. To get off to a positive start that can endure, it helps to have some mutually agreed upon boundaries. It grounds a team and thus leverages shared comfort during those boundless times of co-creating. These were some possible rules to consider suggesting:

  • Always have a prioritized agenda when meeting. That doesn’t mean that, once at the meeting, you can’t agree to collectively alter it. Yet starting with something concrete is easier to alter than starting with nothing.
  • First, say why you are bringing a topic up and what you want from the group before diving into conversation, then ask for feedback on that goal.
  • Always directly respond to a question rather than giving background first or changing the topic. Thus you keep a thread to the conversation, an increasingly rare habit.
  • Synthesize the disparate comments from other members of the group discussion, as another way to keep a connective thread to the conversation
  • Whenever possible, do not disagree but rather ask for permission to suggest another option for the goal that is being discussed.

2. Meet and decide in conversation and in writing
Slow and fast thinkers can be equally smart. Fast thinkers flourish in conversation, and slow thinkers benefit from time for deliberate thinking and then writing, as Daniel Kahneman famously describes in Thinking, Fast and Slow. A smart team provides for both needs. Further, introverts thrive with adequate alone time and deep relationships with a few friends, as Quiet author Susan Cain explains. Extroverts prefer to be engaged with people more often and enjoy having a wider circle of friends. Thus introverts also need down time to think and gain faster support from their close friends. Extroverts still get the face time they want to get things done and be better able to tap the wisdom of crowds for insights, because they have a wider group of contacts.

3. Consider both best and worst-case scenarios
Optimists often tend to view situations through a rosy lens, minimizing or ignoring possible obstacles, yet tending to be more tenacious in overcoming them. When a problem arises, pessimists are more likely to see it as permanent (it will always be this bad), pervasive (everything, not just this problem, is bad) and personal (it affects me the most). While they are inveterate doubters, they are also – according to some research – more realistic in their view of a situation than are optimists. Thus, discussing both extremes of what might happen when choosing a course of action can lead to smarter, collective decision-making.

4. Praise specific actions of teammates, especially from those who are extremely unlike you
Just like smiling (or even slightly elevating your eyebrows) not only raises your mood and likeability – and that of those facing you – authentically praising those who think and act differently than you makes you feel both more likeable and more familiar to each other. Thus you are more likely to focus on the convivial, helpful parts of your work together rather than on the fractious moments – making more productive times a self-fulfilling prophecy. This approach also reduces the natural instinct to for each of us to believe we are doing more than most others, according to Mindwise author, Nicholas Epley.

5. Keep reminding yourself of the power of unexpected allies
Even if you experience success with unlikely allies, it’s all too easy to slip back into hanging out just with those who act and think much like you. To reinforce your motivation to cultivate diverse colleagues and be adept at recruiting and leading teams of diverse people, be prepared with the bad and good news. “People in diverse groups are less happy. Their views are challenged, and they feel like the outcomes were manipulated. Based on their experiences, they will self-report that it was not better than when they were on a homogenous team,” The Difference author Scott E. Page told angel investor Steve Jurvetson and others at a Santa Fee Institute meeting.

Yet when diverse teams experience success they know wouldn’t have happened without each other, they tend to form strong bonds, so it’s well worth finding out how. The key to being smarter together than as individuals is that the group is sufficiently diverse that they “got stuck less often than the smart individuals, who tended to think similarly,” according to Page. Reinforcing that research, a recent Deloitte study cited by Alison Griswold found that “diversity of thought” spurs “innovation and creative problem solving” and reduces “groupthink.”

Participate in tight-knit teams that regularly interact with other teams. In so doing, you gain the benefits of staying nimble, engaging with people you get to know well, while avoiding becoming extreme and hardened in your beliefs and methods as happens when teams act in continued isolation from others.

6. Record what’s most significant in each experience you have with others
“Immediately after every lecture, meeting or any significant experience, take 30 seconds – no more or less – to write down the most important points you heard” is advice Robyn Scott passes along from an anonymous “éminence grise of the business world.” Don’t consider this note taking but rather “an act of interpretation, prioritization and decision-making,” she suggests.

Fostering your mutuality mindset, this habit helps you crystallize core ideas. You are more likely to actively listen, ask better questions and offer relevant help in the current conversation. As well, you are better able to recall and refer to apt insights and adapt them to other situations.

This article was written by Kare Anderson from Forbes and is licensed by Bloomberg.