4 keys to integrating diverse perspectives into teams

There are a number of key steps organisations and HR can take to integrate diversity for improved organisational performance

There are a number of key steps organisations and HR can take to integrate diversity for improved organisational performance, writes Jennie Walker

Diverse perspectives and skill sets equip organisations with an advantage. Just having diversity present is not sufficient to reap the full rewards, though. A 2013 research study on innovation and diversity cited in the Harvard Business Review found that diversity drives innovation and results in better organisational performance. The key to the findings was that even among people who had inherent diversity characteristics, their ability to acquire new, diverse attributes led to higher performance.

In short, diversity needs to both be present and actively fostered. Managers are instrumental in this effort, because they are already charged with engaging their teams to work together. By actively encouraging teams to integrate diverse perspectives and approaches, managers are promoting innovation and ultimately diversity in their organisations.

So why doesn’t everyone do this? Integrating diverse perspectives can sometimes be a challenge – different ways of being, thinking and doing can create tension, misunderstandings, and outright conflict. Developing a basic appreciation for diversity provides the necessary foundation to work through differences. But appreciation only keeps the peace. To achieve cross-pollination of ideas, employees at all levels and across functions need to develop the ability to actively solicit and integrate diverse perspectives.

As Malcolm Forbes said: “Diversity is the art of thinking independently together.” Integrating diverse perspectives is not synonymous with compromise. Compromise is defined in the Merriam-Webster dictionary as “an agreement or settlement of a dispute that is reached by each side making concessions”; essentially, each party has to give something up in a compromise.

While compromise may be one way to integrate diverse perspectives where there are incongruent goals, many times in diversity situations, the goals are not necessarily incongruent – they are simply not understood or fully explored, leading people to assume compromise is the only way forward.

To illustrate this common problem, consider the example of two international food manufacturers who are keen on acquiring a larger percentage of the local orange harvest from the supplier. Quantities are limited, and so the supplier may readily think that the decision is who to sell the oranges to. One manufacturer is a long-time trusted business partner, while the other is a potential new partner who is willing to pay top dollar. It may seem like jumping right into deal making is the most expedient solution.

However, by exploring each perspective more fully, we come to find that one distributor wants the fruit of the oranges for juice, while the other wants the rinds of the oranges for producing orange extract.

With this knowledge, it is now possible to have a conversation about how to provide sufficient product to both manufacturers. Integrating diverse perspectives in this case ends up generating much higher revenue for the supplier as well.

4 key actions to help integrate diverse perspectives into teams

  1. Invite team members to share their perspectives in their own ways. In diverse teams, it is important to actively solicit each individual’s views in respectful ways. For instance, some individuals will be comfortable sharing in a group setting, while others may prefer more discreet avenues for sharing their views. As the facilitator of a team discussion, this will mean thoughtful planning about how to gather views and share them in a way that involves all team members. Simply forcing a group discussion with the expectation that everyone participate does not promote inclusivity across cultures.
  2. Foster inclusive team discussions by taking a break. The pressures of time and expectations in organisations may push team members to inadvertently prioritise finding solutions over understanding all viewpoints involved. It may be helpful to hold separate sessions – first to hear all viewpoints and then to identify solutions. This physical break between the two can help the team focus on one objective at a time and provide time in between for the reflection and Q&A needed to really understand diverse perspectives.
  3. Work towards consensus on shared goals and decision-making criteria. Before the quest for solutions begins, it is helpful to involve the team in identifying shared goals and criteria for decision making. This consensus will be a key driver for engagement in the long run. Without consensus, the parties who do not agree or are not fully satisfied are unlikely to put their energy and resources into the final plans.
  4. Gain agreement on solutions through member-checking. Clearly, negotiations and other high-stakes agreements do not always turn out to be a win–win for everyone. However, it is important that those who are involved in or affected by the solution are committed to it. As potential solutions are identified, check in with those who have alternative viewpoints to see how their needs could be either better integrated or otherwise satisfied. Working towards better integrating diverse perspectives can open the door to more creative and inclusive solutions that inspire commitment.

Image source: iStock