Have you ever been on a team where it seemed like everyone shared the same mind? They all agreed on everything, and things went along swimmingly?
This seems great in theory, but when everyone agrees with each other all the time, it might mean that great ideas are getting left on the table... or not even considered at all.
In fact, The Harvard Business Review says diverse teams are smarter, and cites a McKinsey report that shows when teams are racially diverse, companies have a 35% higher average return, and when they are gender diverse, they have a 15% higher return.
A team's power comes from the members' differing backgrounds, experience levels, and skillsets. We'd even go so far as to argue that you don't really need a team if everyone thinks the same. If no one is bringing new ideas to the table, why meet to discuss them? You already know what the other is thinking.
So, to build a team that is not only cohesive, but productive, it's important to encourage everyone to share their ideas, feedback, and constructive criticism. The result? Bigger, better ideas.
Don't Be Afraid to Challenge the Status Quo
Diversity goes way beyond race and gender.
“Diversity of thought really is bringing your uniqueness, bringing your true self, and looking at things from your own perspective. I think that is what can make a concept or a thought or a suggestion or a proposal truly valuable," says Anju P., Strategy & Planning Lead in New York Life's Technology team.
That's why it's important to think of diversity in a broader sense. It's about the unique ideas and perspectives that people bring to the table from past jobs and experiences.
“It's like a beautiful melting pot. You have New York Life professionals with deep knowledge of our company and industry and when this is combined with an influx of new employees arriving from different industries and backgrounds,” says Raul H., Customer Relationship Management for New York Life, "it's almost viral. By both sets of perspectives coming together, we are creating new ways of driving New York Life forward."
So, encourage people to share stories that relate to the work you're currently doing. Maybe someone was in a similar boat at a past company and can create a solution that will work better than the one that initially comes to mind. Or maybe someone's background in marketing can come in handy when thinking from a consumer perspective.
Be proactive in seeking out advice and feedback from not only your manager and your team, but also peers on different teams.
The Power of Perspective
The driving force behind a great team is often the ability for team members to work together, give feedback, and constantly innovate.
“It's more of an understanding of who you are and how you think, bringing [an idea] to the table and having others challenge, but also accept it. You can't go in thinking, 'my way is the right way.' Have a view, embrace the change, and collectively build better opinions," says Lauren P., from New York Life's Office of the Business Information Officer.
So, if someone has a background in technology, but now they are on a design team, they'll be able to offer a different solution than someone who has spent their career entrenched in Photoshop.
Moral of the story? Speak up in your next team meeting when something doesn't make sense to you, or if you think you have a better way of doing something. You're not putting down your team member, you're making the team as a whole better, which impacts the company's, and ultimately, your success.
If you're stumped on how to interject or offer feedback try one of these:
Templates for Giving Feedback
Have you thought about doing/using/trying [blank] instead? In my experience [insert story], this worked better because [reason].
Can you explain your thinking behind [idea]? I want to make sure I'm understanding you correctly.
What was the catalyst for this idea?
Have you thought about asking [person] for their perspective? I think they could offer great advice from their experience as a [title/job description].
Don't leave another meeting frustrated because everyone nods their heads and agrees. Instead try sharing a new idea you want feedback on ahead of time to give people a chance to digest and understand your proposal. Then ask everyone to come with one or two questions or suggestions.
This avoids putting people on the spot, and gives someone who may be shy or unsure the time to come up with an answer they feel comfortable sharing.
Give this email template a try:
In advance of tomorrow's meeting, I wanted to send along an idea I would like to discuss.
[Insert description of idea and any supporting reasoning for what this will solve/why it's important].
I would love to get everyone's thoughts, as I value the perspective of the team, so please come with any feedback, good or bad.
Still hearing crickets?
Giving and taking feedback is a skill that needs to be honed. So, talk to your manager or HR about holding a workshop where people practice giving constructive criticism. While it may be uncomfortable for some, having a culture where everyone at all levels can freely share their thoughts and opinions is invaluable to your growth, and the company's.