Managing Diverse Teams

By Dr. Lynn Friedman
Special to washingtonpost.com
Tuesday, November 29, 2005; 3:57 PM

Diversity refers to many things, differences in race, religion, culture and gender. Alternatively, it refers to people with differing professional backgrounds or personality styles. Often, diverse teams are managed in a way that supports and maintains a spirit of clubbiness, of "in-groups" and "out-groups" and of "haves" and "have-nots." For those in the "in crowd," there may be a sense of community and intimacy. For those in the "out crowd" however, there may be a sense of isolation, loneliness and even bitterness. Such a structure is not fully productive for everyone involved. For those who are a part of the "in crowd," there is always the inherent threat of a fall from grace and an awareness of the impact of such a fall.

For those in the "out crowd," isolation may make it harder for them to produce their best work. If those in the "out crowd" truly understood the mores and norms of the group, they would, by definition, be part of the "in crowd." As outsiders, they may not always, "get it." For the insiders, a friendly colleague would provide the "inside scoop," outsiders may be left on their own to make mistakes. Second, being on the inside track makes it easier to collaborate with other colleagues and to expose strengths and weaknesses. Strengths can be supported and developed and the weaknesses can be overcome.

Outsiders tend to be more guarded because they often do not have ready access to mentors and social networks. Insiders have more contact with others. Thus, they have more of an opportunity to learn from the experiences of others.

Managing diverse teams for competitive advantage is important because when the work community is enfranchising, employees are likely to feel more invested, more committed and more likely to try their best.

Moreover, employees who feel a sense of community are more likely to enjoy working together.

Diverse teams can be managed for competitive advantage. Don't assume that everyone knows the mores and norms of your particular workplace.

Make the mores, norms and expectations very explicit -- verbally and in writing. Create teams where people of diverse backgrounds must collaborate and provide rewards for successful outcomes. Create multiple contexts for mentoring and, reward the mentors for successful outcomes. Create timely and direct situations for positive and negative feedback. In this way, people will know when they are off the track and when they are on it. If there is already a considerable amount of non-inclusive socializing, develop work-based opportunities for socializing -- that includes the entire group. Lastly, reward inclusivity in every way.

Lynn Friedman, Ph.D. is a clinical psychologist/psychoanalyst and work-life consultant in full-time, private practice near the Bethesda metro. She is on the adjunct faculty in the Organizational Development-Human Resource program at Johns Hopkins. More of her work can be found on http://www.drlynnfriedman.com/.


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