The New Rules For High-Performance Teams (It’s About Diversity AND Inclusion)

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Gihan Perera is a business futurist, speaker, and author who works with business leaders to help them lead and succeed in an uncertain but exciting future. He’s also the author of Disruption By Design: Leading the change in a fast-changing world. In this guest post, Perera offers his tips on what a modern and effective team looks like…

There’s no doubt diversity and inclusion drive productivity, performance, and bottom-line results. According to research from the Diversity Council of Australia and Suncorp, employees in inclusive teams are more likely to innovate, more likely to be highly effective, more likely to stay, and more likely to be very satisfied with their job.

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But leaders only get those results when they truly understand the dynamics of diverse teams. Ticking the diversity box won’t help you if you ignore inclusion – in other words, tapping into the diverse background, skills, talents, and behaviour of every team member.

Here are four ways for leaders to tap into the diversity of their people to build high-performance teams.

1. Share the Journey

The best people don’t just exchange their time for money. They want a place where they can say they’re proud to work, and where their work has meaning. They know what “we” stand for and value what we stand for.

This is especially important for diverse teams. When everybody is aligned with the team’s purpose and goals, they are far more likely to accept, tolerate, and even embrace each other’s differences.

This is the real secret to employee engagement. Instead of investing time, money, and energy in employee engagement programs, create a shared journey and your people are automatically engaged.

2. Make Flexible Work Work

The traditional office structure discourages diversity: Everybody works in the same place, for the same hours, in the same way. But in our connected world, many of the benefits of the traditional office don’t apply anymore, and the best people want – even demand – more flexibility. A 2018 Robert Half survey found almost half (47%) of Australian workers would be willing to accept a pay cut for more flexible working hours, and 40% would be willing to accept a pay cut to be able to work from home sometimes.

In diverse teams, people have different attitudes, cultural expectations, religious observations, parenting responsibilities, and so on. As a leader, you can’t be expected to know every nuance. But instead of trying to understand and accommodate every exception, stop thinking of them as exceptions. Assume flexible work is the rule, not the exception.

3. Measure Results, Not Processes

The traditional office environment subtly measures – and rewards – processes, time, and behaviour. We do notice who arrives late, leaves early, takes long lunch breaks, spends too much time on social media, waffles in meetings, and never buys anybody else a drink at the pub after work.

But these are all inputs into work. They sometimes correlate with results, but that’s not always the case – especially in diverse teams. If you keep measuring these things, you’re encouraging conformity, not embracing diversity.

A better value of somebody’s work is in their results. If they “goof off” during work hours but achieve their goals by working every night after they put their kids to bed, should you criticise them? Of course not. But it’s not easy to shift your mindset from processes to results. The most successful leaders are those who can make that shift.

4. Push Authority to Information

The old process for delegating work was to give work to a subordinate, and ask them to report to you regularly, especially if unexpected obstacles arose. This is the “push information to authority” model, where any new information is pushed up the hierarchy.

It should be obvious this isn’t the most effective way to lead anymore. Not only do you become a bottleneck, you don’t empower your people to develop and apply their own skills. This is true for any team, but especially for a diverse team, where you value their ideas, insights, and decisions precisely because they are different from your own.

A better approach is to adopt the opposite mindset – that is, push authority to information. U.S Navy Commander David Marquet teaches this principle in his book “Turn the Ship Around”, where he describes how he transformed the culture of his crew from followers to leaders. Marquet inherited a crew that was used to obeying orders, and his book describes how he gradually empowered them to accept more responsibility and authority.

How will YOU embrace diversity for better performance?

We used to say, “There’s no ‘I’ in ‘Team’”. But that’s no longer the case. People in a diverse team have unique talents, individual goals, and innovative ideas. There is an ‘I’ in “Team” now, and high-performance teams need leaders who recognise this profound change.

Not all leaders will rise to this challenge. If you call your people “resources”, define their roles by their job descriptions, see them as interchangeable parts in a machine, or view your Generation Y employees as demanding and self-absorbed, you won’t be able to make this work. But if you truly embrace their diversity and tap into their talents and skills, you can create a high-performance team that is fit for the future.

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Gihan Perera

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