To Get Your Diverse Team Cracking On, Get Curious First

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Ever worked with a leader who was engrossed in their own views, their history and their understanding of what made a project successful or not? Look back and you might realise that leader also surrounded themselves with 'me too' images of themselves. In short, they attracted sameness, not diversity. Even if people were different, they learned to ape the leader pretty quickly.

I've been part of such teams and it amazes me now that I realised really late how we weren't attracting new people, in fact, we were losing people in our team, and protecting our shrinking pool with increasing fervour because it threatened our way of work and existence. More importantly, it made us uncomfortable to be inclusive of new people and new ways of thinking and doing. I was party to it, so I understand this intimately as I stepped away from such an environment, and hope to detect it early on next time I land up in one again.

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Those of us who live with the past as our reference point aren't really living forward, we are just getting from one day to another and it appears as if we are moving forward.

The clock is moving for sure, but best case scenario, we are still in the same place, and worst case scenario, we are actually moving backwards.

Sameness is dangerous, it encourages groupthink (the tendency to echo each others' thoughts and conform, instead of contradicting or brining in new thoughts). So you could very well be taking the worst decision, and no one would be able to catch it or hesitate to call it out even if they caught it. Research has found that homogeneity does not help cultivate a diverse team or attract diverse talent. Homogenous teams conform each others' hypothesis that status-quo and sameness is working in their favour and they are the most innovative, productive and profitable they possibly could be.

Not having any conflict is not necessarily a good thing. Some conflict is helpful to shake things up, so the old has a chance to fall through and the new has space to grow.

Curiosity makes one day different from another and makes a team break away from sameness and move toward the benefits of diversity. Lead the way for your team to be respectful of curiosity as one of their biggest team virtues and an ally in being innovative and productive.

#1 Ask questions and lead your team to think through things

It's a temptation to begin by asking for a solution, which generally shuts down any other thoughts, questions, doubts, ideas or disruptive decisions. When you ask for solutions, the message is clear, you mean business here and now, there is no space for anything else. That dismisses curiosity in a hurry. There are situations where a solution is urgently required, but the more you encourage thinking things through and letting the solution emerge, the fewer emergencies and pressing customer issues you might face. Let your team know you want to listen to them, not test their knowledge, and watch curiosity become a way of decision making in your team.

#2 Have one-on-ones with no agenda

Every fibre of your professional training might say, no agenda = no meeting. Yet, try out a non-urgent, no agenda one-on-one with your team members. Begin by asking a generic, but relevant question such as, what do they think of a latest policy or practice or initiative in the organisation? Let the conversation take its course. Team members very quickly discern that you aren't questioning them to punish mistakes, but genuinely want to know how things are going for them. Most will share much more than you expected. Maybe, they are playing guitar at a charity event this weekend, and you could go over to listen to them play and meet them and other team members in an entirely different environment. It's amazing how teams transform when people can bring their whole selves to work and not be afraid of your reaction to it.

#3 Let the team quiz each other and have fun

Diverse teams might hesitate to experience the full force of their diversity fearing they might hurt someone or offend feelings. Make it fun to be a diverse team. Get together informally only to get to know each other better, play a game for example, everyone gets to ask one question to the other person that helps everyone understand their culture better. Some conversations might get intense, you can watch for boundaries, but try not to shut it down, so the team gets a taste of what it means to be able to fully express their cultures and understand where to draw the line, while not shrinking and making themselves invisible either. There is a happy place where we bring ourselves to work and also include others around us in that experience. Help your team find that place through sharing and listening and being respectful.

A team that is not busy being curious about new things is doing the opposite, it's spending the best hours of their day protecting, defending and rationalising.

What are you and your team spending their hours over?

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