Handling Diversity In Teams

CoolAvenues Newswire | February 12,2014 01:05 pm IST

Cross-cultural differences! Multiple races! Heterogeneity! Work styles of different genders!
These were what stood out on the first day of our team's meeting.
This article recounts how we learnt to handle such diversity.

Team building in a diverse group

Most people do not value diversity until they perceive it to be in their self-interest to do so. We were no exception either, for, we exhibited an interest in diversity only after we were assigned to groups and realized that the team could be effective and our self-interests served only if synergy were established amidst such diversity.

However, this process of appreciating such differences was not as simple as it appears to be. The complexity increased as people in our teams had differing personal styles as well, while some were shy and introverted and felt that their opinions would never be heard in the team discussion, others had strong convictions and felt that their views would be compromised. Fast trackers used to "A+" evaluations of their individual work felt that joining a team could only obscure and even detract from their brilliance. Hence we knew that achieving synergy amongst a group of members with varied personal styles alongwith diverse backgrounds was not going to be a piece of cake.

But the fruits reaped at the end of this process made our efforts more than worthwhile. Participation in a facilitated group not only resulted in new and powerful learning at the individual level, but the process changed the group as well. There were some who resisted the group, staying self-righteously distant and being miserable. Team building and diversity handling experience helped such people acknowledge their fear of risking their sense of control and power. There were others who listened, were attentive to every gesture and provided some unobtrusive response that helped others continue what they were saying. Understanding how power dynamics of traditional patterns of interactions has created systems of privilege for some, helped us managers-to-be understand how to form teams that were proactive towards such people.

In the process of understanding how diversity is to be appreciated and handled, we also learned that we always needed to be receptive to new information and adapt ourselves continually since change and its ensuing differences are inevitable. Slowly, the team members sought cross-training opportunities whenever possible. Members discovered that their individual performance expectations expanded dramatically when they embraced the idea of 'treating diversity as a mode of learning' rather than 'as a hurdle to achieving the team's goals.' All the interaction and problem-solving and decision making activities of the group occurred in a supportive atmosphere rather than a hostile one. Suggestions, comments, ideas, information and criticism were all offered with a helpful orientation.

The most important fallout of this process has been that - knowledge was used as a shared power, not a personal power.

Why this experience would be useful

The words - "Handling diversity" - find place in the parlance of any manager. Quite surprisingly, not many have mastered this art. Organizations on the other hand have realized that they can remain competitive only if they recognize and obtain the best talent, value the diverse perspectives that come with this talent, born of different cultures, races, genders and influenced by different environments and institutions.

Having known this, it does not take a rocket scientist to figure out that B-schools, like that of ours, have been admitting students from diverse backgrounds in order to leverage such cross-functional and cultural resources. Team building exercises, coupled with diversity handling experience, help in molding students with a competitive advantage. Having recognized that a huge demand for managers equipped with such skills exists, it is apparent that an inimitable knowledge of handling diversity should make us valuable!


Contributed by -
Sangeetha K. S.,
IIM Kozhikode.  


News related to B Schools, Companies, Industry etc....