Blue Switch Consulting
Talent Optimisation Consultant


Commentary and Analysis

How to Build a Super Team

Enhancing the diversity of your workforce is one thing. Knowing how to leverage it is another.

So, your organization is sold on the business case for diversity.

You get that more diverse offices generate more revenue, and that the larger the share of women in a group, the higher its social intelligence.

You've been working hard to improve your diversity by approaching the challenge from all angles. You've done implicit bias training, you've created affinity groups and established a quality sponsorship program. You're supporting these initiatives with research-based "bias interrupters" that will help you achieve your diversity goals: you've improved talent management procedures, modified employee evaluation protocols, and even improved your physical environment to make sure your spaces aren't sabotaging your talent.

You know you've made the right moves, but developing a dynamic and diverse workforce takes time. In the meantime, you want to make sure you're leveraging the diversity you do have.

When it comes to building dynamic teams that leverage the diversity of their members, there are some things to keep in mind:

1. not every team member "sounds" the same

Effective teams need to make use of each of their members, and all voices need to have an opportunity to contribute. But, not every voice carries the same weight. Because of the ways we are socialized, male and female contributions are valued differently. Studies indicate that in mixed-gender groups, women are perceived as talking more than they actually do; their contributions are viewed as 'equally balanced' when they actually talk 25% of the time or less, and are perceived as 'dominating the conversation' when they speak just 25-50% of the time.

2. an all-star team will underperform 

When it comes to assigning "star" players to teams, more is not better. You're better off distributing "stars" evenly between groups if you want to maximize on their achievements and leadership. If you're tempted to create an all-star team, keep in mind that research shows the more stars on a team, the less impactful their advantages are, and, eventually, their combined advantages become a liability.

3. diversity spread thin doesn't "work"

You've got 25 staff (20 men, 5 women). You need to make 5 teams. So, you put one woman on each team, right? Wrong. 

When a diverse individual is placed on a homogeneous team, they are more likely to act and contribute in line with the characteristics of the dominant group. They are less likely to bring their diverse experiences, ways of thinking, problem-solving skills and perspectives to the task at hand.



If you build teams without considering intra-group dynamics, you're flouting the advantages diversity promises.

What measures can you take to make the most of the diversity you've got?

1. balance your groups

Consider critical mass. Build groups that have at least 30-33% minority representation. That might mean that not all of your groups feature diverse or female team-members, but that's better than expecting them to serve as representatives of their diverse groups.

Research shows that, in more balanced groups, stereotypes have less influence, and minority individuals are "regarded as individuals rather than just token representatives."

2. do not implement quotas

Quotas are tricky interventions that are rarely well-received. They can play a role in especially stubborn situations, but should be avoided if possible. (Targets, on the other hand, combined with robust leadership buy-in, can be especially effective for increasing female - and minority - representation.)

Some studies indicate that when teams are constructed with quotas as guidelines, "people are less willing to cooperate with one another."

3. invite equal contributions

Former U.S. President Barack Obama was known for calling on the quietest person in the room to contribute their opinions.

You can use a "talking stick" - real, or imagined, to make sure that everyone has a voice (a simple, yet effective design intervention).

4. mandate consensus-based decision-making

Unanimous decision-making means that every voice counts. They invite more robust debate and result in greater contributions by diverse individuals. A "dominant" voice doesn't just need to sway a majority of team-members, but must present an argument strong enough to convince all team members that they have the best idea.

5. encourage active listening

In a boardroom or team setting where robust decision-making and discussion is at play, people have a tendency to "hear" but not "listen to" the contributions of their peers.

They hear an idea and immediately begin formulating a rebuttal or alternative contribution.

Require team members to build on and/or respond to the ideas and arguments of others. This guarantees active listening whereby team members cannot simply negate the contributions of other (because they already had a different idea of their own), but have to consider other perspectives before voicing their own.

6. assign - better yet, unearth - a devil's advocate

The tragedy of mankind comes from the inability of people to have thoughtful disagreements to find out what's true.
- Ray Dalio

Adam Grant points out that, when we invite and promote dissenting voices, "decisions will be made based on idea meritocracy, not a status hierarchy or democracy."



First achieving,

then leveraging,

a diverse workforce can seem tricky --

even if you haven't got it just right, you're still on the right track:

Hundreds of studies show that the more we rub shoulders with people who are different from us, the more open we are to diverse ways of thinking and being.



Building the best team requires you to know your talent and the diversity of thinking they bring to the table.


© Dr Kristen Liesch 2017. All rights reserved.