The ability of businesses to transform their operating model is essential for success. Disruptive change is becoming the norm, not just disruptive business models like Uber but social norms and technology are changing the world in which we operate.
However, historically business transformations have not been very successful1. Therefore, having a good diverse team is one of the key elements to achieve a successful business transformation. Research shows that diverse organisations are higher performing organisations2 and have better decision making3 with higher innovation and creativity4.
Business transformation teams are often thought to be diverse as they bring together a number of people from different area such as IT, strategy, operations, finance etc. However, what is very interesting is the value of bringing socially diverse teams together which is often overlooked as people tend to put leaders “like them” together.
A study by Katherine Phillips in 2006, showed that when groups of students were put together to solve a task that required sharing information, the socially more diverse groups outperformed the others5. Whilst all groups were given the same information the individuals within the group had different information and those groups with a more diverse team shared more. The conclusion was that working with similar individuals leads us to think we all share the same perspective which hinders creativity and innovation. Other studies have shown that when individuals were faced with presenting an option to someone from a different social group to them, they worked harder, more diligently and better outcomes were achieved6.
What is also clear is that working in diverse teams is hard as many diverse teams despite the better results do not feel that they are delivering better results7. A business transformation role can be challenging at times as by changing the company norms you can face resistance. Therefore, it is essential to have a strong and diverse team. So, what can you do to ensure a diverse project team is successful? Here are a few tips:
Sponsorship. This is an absolute must, without senior sponsorship and active engagement from the leadership throughout the programme, the transformation will not succeed. So, if you do nothing else focus on this. The leaders must consistently champion the transformation and check in with the team regularly and encourage and support individual team members.
Understanding unconscious bias and work on inclusion: The elements of success are understanding the value of diverse team, our own unconscious bias and creating the conditions that people feel they belong. Consider training on unconscious bias, styles and the benefits of diversity at the beginning of a project. Also having clear structures on how decisions are made and disagreements resolved, as well as the principle that challenge is good (no group think) agreed up front with the team.
Strong team leaders with empathic leadership and passion: The leader of the transformation must believe in the transformation and be able to passionately engage his team behind him or her. Story telling is a great way to create a sense of belonging in the team. It is essential to have the right leader who can create a conducive environment where everyone is encouraged to contribute and be themselves.
Performance management: Often forgotten as being a member of the transformation team puts you outside the normal performance management and annual review cycles. This needs to be considered prior to moving into the team to have a conversation on how this role will move their career forward and provide appropriate training/coaching and mentoring. Being part of the transformation team makes someone more visible in the organisation, however, it can also mean they are vulnerable in downsizing; therefore, sponsorship is essential.
Making it fun – work hard play hard: Make it a good team to work in and a fun team. The project needs to incorporate downtime events, like a drink once a week and workshops for the team as these are the times people can let off steam to keep moral going during difficult times. Remember providing flexibility and a focus on outcome delivery vs time spent in the office, is often key on projects where there can be peaks and troughs of work unlike business as usual.
In Summary, diversity delivers results and in a transformation programme it is even more important to have diverse inputs and decision making to ensure all the possible options and risks are considered to deliver the best solution. However, working in diverse teams are not easy so a real effort is needed to support these teams and create the best conditions for them to survive.
1 Mckinsey 2015 How to beat the transformation odds https://www.mckinsey.com/business-functions/organization/our-insights/how-to-beat-the-transformation-odds
3 Women on boards 2011 p7 https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/31480/11-745-women-on-boards.pdf
5 Scientific America Katherine W Phillips Oct1 2014, How diversity makes us smarter https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/how-diversity-makes-us-smarter/
6 Scientific America Katherine W Phillips Oct1 2014, How diversity makes us smarter https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/how-diversity-makes-us-smarter/
7 HBR David Rock, Heidi Grant, Jacqui Grey 2016 Diverse Teams Feel Less Comfortable — and That’s Why They Perform Better https://hbr.org/2016/09/diverse-teams-feel-less-comfortable-and-thats-why-they-perform-better