Managing diversity to strengthen team cohesion & performance

managing diversity




Think back to the last lively dinner party you attended. Typically the evening is memorable thanks to a mix of different people who had plenty of interesting things to say.


But what you may not have noticed was all the work the host was doing to ensure the evening went smoothly – making people feel welcome, making introductions, and guiding the course of conversation.


Managing diversity at your company is similar to hosting a lively dinner party. Getting the right mix of employees in the door is the first step, but the work doesn’t end there. You need to create an environment that ensures everyone is able to do their best work.


In this post we’ll explore why it’s so important to manage diversity and cover a few best practices for doing so.


Why diversity needs to be managed correctly


As an organisation becomes more diverse, changes need to be made. Continuing on with “business as usual” is likely to lead to problems. HR and people management practices that may have worked well in the past need to be revised an updated to account for a new work environment.


Getting it wrong has consequences. Increased diversity can come at the expense of interpersonal harmony and team cohesion. Misunderstanding, suspicion, and conflict at work can result in absenteeism, poor quality work, and low morale. But this needn’t be the case.


The conflicts arising from diversity can be mitigated if teams are effectively managed. At its best, management enables individuals to set aside their selfish agendas and cooperate with others for the benefit of the organisation. It navigates the natural tension between our desire to get ahead of others and our need to get along with others.


This is particularly important when teams for diverse because it’s inherently harder for team members to see things from other members’ perspectives, empathise with them, and suppress their own conscious and unconscious biases.


Managerial accountability and diversity


In order to manage diversity effectively, leaders should first examine existing management practices. The behaviours and beliefs of managers are often the most important drivers in shaping the cultural dynamic of an organisation.


Taking some time to reflect on your existing management culture is well worth the investment. Are there certain processes, behaviours or norms that may make some individuals feel unwelcome? If so, until they are addressed, other efforts to better manage diversity are likely to be met with limited success.


Writing in Yale Insights, David Thomas, Professor of Business Administration at Harvard Business School, stressed the importance of managerial accountability when it comes to diversity:


Leaders need to know that they have to build accountability into their systems with regard to their managers taking responsibility for creating a diverse and inclusive work environment. We often see the people at the very top saying all the right things relative to diversity, but their middle management, who really run the organisation and create the experience of people who work there, don’t understand and don’t feel accountable for diversity and inclusion.


You can cut diversity across a lot of different dimensions—what’s important for each organisation is to identify the relevant dimensions, measure them, and make that part of how managers are evaluated. It’s not a matter of inventing new measures as much as it is using diversity as a lens to look at the measures that we have.


By creating effective conflict management strategies and actively promoting a culture of tolerance and open communication, managers can help tackle the challenges presented by greater diversity.


Tips for managing diversity


Below are some tips for business leaders and managers on handling the challenges of a diverse workforce:


Always hire on merit


Diversity should never be forced. All this does is give rise to an entirely new set of problems, namely, quotas and positive discrimination. So the principle of hiring based on merit should never be compromised.


If you hire the most-qualified people, those with the right education, experience and skill set, a diverse workplace will typically follow. If it doesn’t, it may be worth considering introducing a blind CV screening process. This will help remove unconscious bias from your initial selection process and ensure you are giving all applicants an equal opportunity to reach the interview stages.


You should also level the playing field by putting uniform interview processes in place. Are you documenting every interview in a consistent manner? Are all applicants for a position asked the same type of questions? Managers may need to be trained in interview best practices, documentation, and what can and cannot be asked.


Prioritise inclusive communication


Policies, procedures, safety rules and other important information should be designed to overcome language and cultural barriers by offering translations of written material and using pictures and symbols whenever applicable.


Treat each employee as an individual


Avoid making assumptions. Look at each employee as an individual and judge successes and failures on the individual’s merit rather than attributing actions to their background.


Encourage and facilitate the creation of diverse teams


Diverse work teams let employees get to know and value one another on an individual basis and can help break down preconceived notions and cultural misunderstandings.


Base standards on transparent, objective criteria


Set one standard of rules for all groups of employees and communicate them clearly. Ensure that all employment actions, including discipline, follow this standardised criteria to make sure everyone is treated the same.


Remain open minded


Recognise, and encourage employees to recognise, that one’s own experience, background, and culture are not the only with value to the organisation. Look for ways to incorporate a diverse range of perspectives and talents into efforts to achieve organisational goals.