What’s More Challenging: Creating Diversity or Integrating it Successfully?
I have had a number of conversations lately with colleagues about the challenges leaders face in creating greater diversity in their organizations. Diversity comes in several flavors. There are the common forms of diversity – gender, race, ethnicity and sexual preference. But when an existing organizational culture is asked to accept an outsider, the challenge then becomes how to create value through successfully integrating and maximizing the talents of this diverse group.
Some organizations handle this “integration” well and some don’t. Why? My sense is the answer lies in how intentional the leader is about both the spoken and unspoken characteristics of their organizational culture.
The meaning of the word integration has evolved over the year – and not in a good way. It harkens back to the 1970′s when schools were being “integrated”. Fights broke out, learning became challenging and it was largely viewed in retrospect as an experiment that failed. And, this “experiment” for me provides learning for leaders who want to diversify their organizations.
Integrating- Merriam Webster “to form, coordinate, or blend into a functioning or unified whole”
Isn’t this exactly what we want to do when we diversify? And…Diverse teams are hard…they are harder to build, unlikely to come to consensus and more likely to engage in conflict.
So, why bother? Because… they are harder to build, unlikely to come to consensus and more likely to have conflict. They make better decisions. Research studies prove this.
What to do?
If the goal is getting more of what you already have, then a homogeneous group may be the way to go. If the goal is innovation and critical thinking, you are more likely to get there with a diverse group.
If you decide you want to build a diverse team, first begin by defining what you are looking to accomplish with the diversity. Then ask yourself the following questions as you begin to form, coordinate, or blend into a functioning or unified whole:
- Do I know the backgrounds, preferences, and styles of current team members?
- What actions do I need to take to learn about my current team?
- Have we defined our organizational culture? And, even if we have, what are the unspoken characteristics of that culture?
- What actions do I need to take to learn this information?
- What on-boarding actions do I need to take to achieve successful integration?