My starting point for writing this article is the following reasoning:
- Companies that succeed with real diversity perform better.
- Heterogeneous teams have greater innovative power.
- The Corona crisis has taught us to cooperate and collaborate digitally.
- With digital collaboration skills and cultures now in place, the way is now paved to focus on heterogeneous global team composition, where diversity is both a condition and a goal.
- With high diversity and a global mindset, companies are stronger in global competition.
The journey is long, and this article should inspire why and how to get started.
The recent months with the Corona crisis have given Danish companies a technological boost, which has actually been possible for a long time. There is nothing new about Skype, Microsoft Teams, Zoom, Google Meet, and other technologies that make online collaboration easy. But the Corona crisis has nevertheless made us take these technologies to heart.
Heterogeneous teams as growth and development catalyst
online collaboration cultures is the opportunity to increase the diversity of our organizations, teams, and projects. Specifically, online collaborations provide, amongst others, the opportunity for global recruitment – to access the most intelligent and creative brains – regardless of location.
Because when we become more accustomed to working, collaborating, and co-creating online, and when we therefore also become less tied to geography, it gives us the possibility that we in our organizations are able to recruit more broadly – across regions, countries, continents, cultures, etc.
I do not think that we are far away from a reality where one employee in a team has a permanent base in Copenhagen, another in Krakow, a third in Bangalore, etc. – where can easily assemble teams in regards to professional, human and cultural competencies, that will pave the way for innovation and creation of business value.
I would welcome such a development, and we very much need it in Denmark! For example, it is estimated that we in Denmark by 2030 will lack more than 19,000 skilled IT specialists, and similar scenarios apply in a large number of other disciplines. In other words, we need to crack the nut that is about using the available competencies globally, and with the implementation of new digital platforms and online collaboration habits, we are a step closer in doing so.
In addition to this comes everything we know from the research about the importance of heterogeneous teams and diversity. Analysis and studies from sources such as McKinsey & Co and Catalyst document, among other things, how greater heterogeneity in teams, projects, and organizations paves the way for better innovation. And how greater diversity is, therefore, also one of the keys to better top- and bottom-line results. In 2016, Boston Consulting Group was behind a large survey among 1,700 companies in 8 countries, which shows that the companies that are characterized by high diversity produce 19 percent more to the top line – as a direct result of more and better innovation.
It is kind of obvious that heterogeneous teams can generate greater business value: A high degree of diversity gives the possibility for different ideas, approaches, competencies, etc., which together create better and more balanced solutions. By working with the differences, you get the positive ‘disturbances’ that are absolutely crucial for people to think outside the box.
Diversity and digital transformation
After working with digital strategy and digital business development for many years, I have personally seen how important it is that you put together heterogeneous teams, when dealing with development. This applies regardless of whether the purpose of the projects is (1) to digitize processes, (2) to develop the business, or (3) to disrupt or reinvent the business.
Besides diversity in relation to culture, age, gender, it is, of course, also about diversity in relation to the professional competencies.
Let’s have a closer look.
1. Digitize processes
Digitizing processes, whether it is about digitizing the back office, the production, or something different, is all too often considered a paper on a set subject. A homogeneous team of engineers, for example, will be effective in solving the task, but if we expand the competence palette with profiles that know something about user experience, business development, and digital trends in the market, we create a foundation for not only both digitize, challenge and optimize the process.
The team will focus on a number of key questions: Are there new digital products available on the market that can make the process much better? Do we solve the needs of the end-users? Are we biased towards business as usual? Are we in the process of digitizing processes that are, in fact, unnecessarry? Etc.
2. Digital business development
Concerning digital business development, the classic is to put together teams that know a lot about marketing, customer engagement, retention strategies, etc. But to develop the business appropriately, we also need the competence profiles that are close to the production, the order systems, etc. Thus, the mindset is the same: We obtain more value when we put together a heterogeneous team that can offer different perspectives.
3. Disrupt or reinvent the business
You can reinvent yourself without ruin your existing business, but it is difficult if you are the business and are caught up in daily operations. This means that disruption requires different types of competencies – from outside the company – which are to be combined with those that already exist in-house. My favorite example of this is the airline company SAS. If you ask the question “What is SAS selling, and who are their competitors?”, most people will probably answer that SAS sells flights and that the competitors are Norwegian, Easyjet, Ryanair, etc. Conversely, profiles with expertise in innovation and digital business development, may respond quite differently. Maybe SAS is, in fact, selling ‘face-to-face business meetings’, and in that case, the competitors is be Skype, Zoom, and Meet.
Again, with diversity in our teams, projects, and organizations, we are opening up the positive ‘disruptions’ that pave the way for new perspectives and ultimately more and better innovation.
Diversity is not easy!
There is no doubt that we need to use the experience of the recent months with online collaboration as the lever that allows us to recruit more broadly and embrace diversity.
But this certainly does not mean that diversity is easy!
Accommodating a greater degree of diversity creates a number of challenges that you must practice handling.
My skilled business partner, Charlotte Risbjerg, is an expert in this field. Among other things, we have previously written the article: How to create added value in international projects.
Below, she gives her take on the three biggest challenges that a high degree of diversity in teams and projects bring – and at the same time, three useful pieces of advice for being successful in embracing diversity.
“we need to use the experience of the recent months with online collaboration as the lever that allows us to recruit more broadly and embrace diversity
3 challenges in diversity in companies and organizations
1. Diversity is two-sided. Innovation potential – the potential for problems: Diversity and intercultural collaborations provide opportunities for growth and innovation, but can at the same time lead to misunderstandings, conflicts, and difficulties in the collaboration.
2. Basically, we assess the world from our own point of view – our prior understanding. We may be offended by something that is completely different or someone who has a fundamentally different approach than our own.
Example regarding behavior: A person is on his phone several times at a workshop (because he has his professional notes on it). But what do we think when someone is on their phone during a meeting? As this is a new cultural framework, we react based on what we know ourselves. If we use our phone for Facebook and messages – then we also attribute this to others – and think ‘He should not be on his phone during the meeting!’ (even though it is a working tool).
3. We each come with our own prior understanding, and therefore we easily overlook the real dynamics and differences at stake.
Example: German lawyer, woman, 55 years old, must collaborate with a Danish man of 33 years, who has a sales background.
There are several layers here, and we cannot just look at it as a difference in terms of geography, “German vs. Danish”. Seniority, education, international experience, etc. also greatly impact the way we understand the world. Therefore, when there are problems, it is difficult to see where the conflict is coming from.
3 pieces of advice for greater success with diversity
The way we handle diversity and intercultural collaborations are crucial to success. Own behavior and insight can either be a driver or a limiting factor for the collaboration.
Therefore, the starting point should always be to strive to uncover one’s own bias: Which prior understandings do I have, which limitations do I attach? Am I judgmental or curious? For that purpose, you can use the FFF model below as a mirror and ask yourself: When am I controlled by resp. Facts, Fantasy, Feelings?
Furthermore, the following 3 pieces of advice can be helpful:
1. Be aware of the dynamics that are at stake. See yourself from the outside, be curious and wonder, and use the FFF model to focus on the real differences. Make an effort to move from the feeling and fantasy layers to the fact layer.
2. Remember that you will find what you are looking for! If we focus on the meeting between German/Danish culture in a collaboration – then that will be the problem. So, move your focus to what you can really do something about. If the focus is, for instance, on disagreement in collaboration, for example disagreement about strategy, this is far more manageable. In line with this, there are hidden dangers in attributing too much value to one’s own previous experiences such as “There is always trouble with the Germans”. Humans are not static – yet we often generalize based on isolated incidents.
3. The team culture is crucial for getting people engaged in collaborating and share knowledge. If there are mutual trust and common goals and direction, the team will lift each other. If there is a focus on the differences, you do the opposite. Therefore: Always start with a clear matching of expectations on why we are here and how we best collaborate. Set clear goals and frames. Without a common frame, it is difficult not to fail and difficult to stay on the right track – especially when the diversity is high.
Try it out – it is a journey.