Avoid The Echo Chamber: Build Diverse Teams

It is election season, and with it comes all of the dreaded debates and political ads that make many people cringe. Continuously having your opinions challenged can be stressful, and you may find yourself increasingly flocking toward like-minded people.

You may start to get more use out of your unfollow button on social media as users make their previously hidden political stances known. You might also find yourself reading articles or watching the news stations that you agree with.

Mostly, these are relatively harmless aside from making you a less informed voter. However, it may be a problem if this behavior is bleeding over into how you’re hiring new employees. For the same reason that reading only bloggers that you agree with stifles your learning, building teams of like-minded individuals can hinder your company’s performance.

Notably, research has found that companies led by diverse teams are better performers than those that aren’t. While the effects are best seen at the C-suite level, it is just as important to focus on diversity in your team-building practices at lower levels.

Why Diverse Teams Thrive

The main reason for the value of diversity is that diverse teams have a wide variety of perspectives and experiences that inform and craft their outputs. In other words, opposing opinions and viewpoints are the bedrock of strong ideas. While this can lead to conflict and difficulty in forming consensus, it also ensures that your team’s ideas have gone through the wringer before they see the light of day.

Building Diverse Teams

Diversity goes beyond races and genders. While these are the most important and provide the most productive contrasts, other aspects of your employees’ lives also shape their experiences such as their industry experience, regional heritage, political views, age and religious beliefs.

By building teams that are as heterogeneous as possible in these areas, you can also increase the variety of challenges that your team is prepared to face. By having a wide spectrum of experiences and beliefs, your team will in turn have what’s needed to adjust to new tests, especially as your company targets new markets.

Foster Productive Debate

Just building teams in this way, however, only gets you halfway there. You also need to foster the debate that will fuel your idea factory. Try these tips to encourage worthwhile discussions:

  • Play Devil’s Advocate: As a manager, the best way to teach this behavior is to lead by example. Without being disrespectful, occasionally offer viewpoints that challenge the prevailing opinions within your team. Even if these are just straw men arguments meant to strengthen an original idea, it will help demonstrate the behavior that you desire.
  • Acknowledge Dissenting Opinions: As your team members begin to adopt this behavior of their own, make sure to call attention to the fact that they are contributing in a way that helps the team. This positive feedback will encourage them to continue to speak up moving forward.
  • Stay Calm: There is always the potential that a debate can turn into an argument. Protect your team against these damaging effects by staying calm, and projecting a relaxed demeanor during the discussion.
  • Assign a Decision-Maker: If neither side of a debate is able to definitively make their case for a way forward, a debate can continue indefinitely. Avoid this situation by ensuring that someone fills the role of decision-maker during these discussions. Even better, set a deadline for forming a consensus.

Building homogenous teams can be holding your team back. Bringing in new perspectives and backgrounds is a strong catalyst for the kinds of discussions that generate fresh, new ideas that have shown to grow businesses. Just make sure to encourage the productive debate that is fueled by diverse teams.

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