Diversity:The secret to high performing teams

Wouldn’t it be great to double the performance of your team? It’s possible, says Dr Mariheca Otto, “research has shown that diverse teams perform up to double that of homogenous teams”. “That’s the business case for diversity.”

But it’s not just race and gender, which might be the first thing we think about.  “It’s much more than that,” Dr Otto reveals, “it’s about the variety of personalities, different ways of thinking, different perspectives and strengths.”   

Building a diverse team takes courage

Easy, right?  Hmm, no, not quite.  Having different people in a team doesn’t automatically make them “diverse”.  “It’s about ensuring that people are seen for who they are, and the value that they bring.  If people are included in a team, but they don’t feel like they belong, you’re not tapping into the strength of a diverse team.”  Dr Otto says that it starts with letting go of ego.  “Being yourself and seeing the other person for the human that they are, is the first step to building a diverse team.  It takes courage and vulnerability to open yourself up and share.” 

We have a tremendous opportunity in organizations to link in with the diversity of our nation.  It starts with having the courage to be vulnerable, Dr Otto believes.  “Ask yourself who you really are.  When you meet others, where you might feel intimidated, look at them as a fellow human being and focus on making a connection.  Put yourself in their shoes.  Share stories and ask questions about them, focus on the similarities and celebrate the differences.” 

Take the time to get it right

Dr Otto shares the story of a mining company who asked her to run a series of diversity workshops.  “They told me that they had a race incident on site, and they wanted to take the entire organisation through these workshops.”  She chuckles.  “The race incident was the symptom, but the real issue was that people didn’t feel heard or included.”  A subsequent survey showed that this is exactly what employees felt.  “The leadership was completely surprised, and they took practical steps to change it.  The MD stepped out and started having conversations with people, even just a small thing like greeting people on site.”  It’s been a two-year journey, but it has shown a 100% improvement in terms of belonging. 

Getting it right is hard, and it takes time.  “There’s no silver bullet,” she warns.  “I know that we have to follow the rules and tick the boxes, but real transformation doesn’t happen like that.  You have to get into the hearts and minds of people.  Leadership must get out there, listen to the stories and find out what’s really happening.  And only then you can start shifting it.  You don’t need a perfect solution – you craft it with the team.” 

This article, by Lita Currie, first appeared on on 30 October 2020, click below to listen to the podcast.