In the recent past, in order to instate a holistic environment in organisations, employers are re-emphasising on “diversity” in selection of group and team members. This alternative is generally advocated by years of management research performed in similar or hypothesised situations in the industry, and the conclusive links drawn between resultant output and contribution per se. In fact, modern organisations usually consider this very diversity in their teams a rather strong value proposition in their brand image enhancement.
It is common belief that diversity in age, gender, sexuality, culture, beliefs, lifestyle, religion or previous education and employment backgrounds etc. of team members in any organisation helps pool together invaluable and disparate human experience to emanate concrete decisions from brainstorming and other quintessential processes characteristic to any team functioning. Hence, we often find management teams comprising seasoned ex-directors or ex-executives who have garnered priceless experience from various companies, either related to their current organisation or not, and also amateurs and mid-level experienced employees; topping them all, is the team leader who, well-versed in the industry’s tricks and trades, must ensure harmony in his otherwise disjointed team and know what work to delegate to whom in order to get the job done.
While this practice celebrates popularity in most organisations, given the tremendous pool of knowledge it has to offer, it is not without its flaws, most of them ironically being practical ones. Once the team is assembled from diverse fountains, managing it becomes a challenge, especially in the cement industry, which I run. At the very onset, we must accept that no team is conflict-averse. Misperceptions and typecasts about different cultures have become stumbling blocks for communication. At times non-minority managers want to give constructive criticism but they’re afraid someone will accuse them of being racist (Pledger 2006).
Diversity indicates differing psyches. Under my guidance, I had to face such an error of miscommunication with a female employee in my organisation. While the Indian female aims at stretching horizons and shattering rudimentary misconceptions about her potentials, given the processes involved in manufacturing cement, we were bound to not let this employee operate the rotary kiln which heats the blended raw material for cement at temperatures beyond 1500 degrees Celsius, primarily owing to health hazards posed by the processing units. This decision was considered a stinging attack of racism by the employee, followed by heavy debating on the issues concerned, such as glass ceiling etc. Hence, it is pivotal to understand the role of a leader as he or she is responsible to motivate the individuals from diverse teams and aid them perform and work together in the globalised ambience of corporate world and address the issues and concerns of each and every individual (Pearson and Nelson 2003). Furthermore, there are expenses involved with orientation and training, to bring the variously enriched team members somewhat at par, so that necessary control-checks can be made from time to time (such as salary packages or performance review).
The following extract is from a blog published in the Harvard Business Review:
“… integrating divergent views to boost creativity is a natural job for marketers. At GE, we talk about marketing’s role being about uncovering customers’ value and innovating to deliver it. Doing so is aided enormously by integrating diverse ideas on a single innovation team. The problems our customers face are often too complicated for any one approach — integrating diverse perspectives from within and even from outside the company are key to solving them with new breakthroughs.” (Comstock 2012).
In my industry, diversity in my team acts as a strength, as contrary to perceptions that generally tend to stereotype the manufacturing industry. Our teams contain executives, who have previously worked with the government tendering divisions, who have relevant knowledge of the economics of the infrastructure sector of the country, who have led teams before, their visions synchronized with overall organisational goals and who have essential people skills. The teams are also indispensable without ambitious men and women, battling their mid-lives crises or quarter-lives crises, with an urge to prove themselves, and also junior-level interns willing to step into the industry from scratch. We delegate both men and women in the manufacturing processes, but depending on the intensity and hazards associated with each process of manufacturing, a line is drawn between the genders – but primarily, out of concern for the employees. For instance, we have a senior team member who has been associated with infrastructure division of the Maharashtra Government; his key responsibility is to analyse and predict the directions of winds of government contracts and tenders and performs his necessary marketing responsibilities accordingly.
To conclude, Jehn and Bezrukova (2004) illuminates cases where diversified teams can give extravagant results but the organisation will be unable to deliver with the help of individuals from variegated backgrounds unless someone in the organisation motivates the colleagues and group members to lead the company onwards its desired agenda.
Comstock, B. (11th May 2012) Want a Team to be Creative? Make it Diverse [online] available from <http://blogs.hbr.org/cs/2012/05/want_a_team_to_be_creative_mak.html> [accessed on 7th August 2013]
Jehn, Karen A., and Bezrukova K. (2004) ‘A Field Study of Group Diversity, Workgroup Context, and Performance’ Journal of Organisational Behaviour 25 (6), 703–29
Pearson, J.C. and Nelson, P.E. (2003) Human Communication. New York: McGraw-Hill
Pledger, M. (1st April 2006) ‘Handling Conflict In A Diverse Work Environment’ Find the right place and time to air your differences [online] available from <http://www.blackenterprise.com/mag/handling-conflict-in-a-diverse-work-environment/> [accessed on 7th August 2013]