Building a great team for organizational success can be likened to making a great dish. You need a lot of different and disparate ingredients combined in specific quantities according to a precise formula or sequence to achieve the desired result. Your main ingredients determine the sort of meal you are making, but on its own, it could not deliver the satisfaction diners want. Although no one is ever going to eat a bowl of salt or drink a glass of cooking oil for lunch, without those side ingredients the main condiments would be bland and incomplete.
In the same way, teams and groups within an organization should have complementary differences; they should comprise of diverse people bringing dissimilar skills and competencies to bear on the same vision, goals and objectives. Diversity can help a business become more innovative and resilient by increasing the depth and breadth of thoughts and attitudes with the organization.
What is diversity?
Diversity is when you have people of different gender, age, race, socioeconomic strata, culture, political beliefs, religion, lifestyles and competence working on the same goals within the same organization. People can be diverse on a personal level (age, gender, or skill level) or on a skill level (types of skill and competence).
People with the same mindsets, competencies and interests will use similar frames of reference to solve problems. Homogeneity within teams increases the tendency to focus on assumptions and past experiences rather than considering the current situation on its own merits; such teams are less factual in their approach to problem-solving.
But a diverse team provides a viewpoint that challenges assumptions. The differing experiences and attitudes of team members provide a backdrop which offers fuller consideration of the issues at hand. The result is a resourcefulness, resilience and innovation which is absent from more narrow-minded organizational cultures. Diversity creates freshness and vitality.
On the other hand, diversity can also create divergence. People can get so caught up in their particular difference that they begin to pull in a direction different from that set by the leadership. Diversity can encourage the development of clannish behavior, the emergence of cliques and formation of silos within the organization, as people acquire an ‘us against them’ mindset.
This kind of thinking emerges when individual differences are allowed to overshadow organizational unity. If such problems are not identified early and dealt with, they lead to misalignment of personal goals with the organization’s vision, strategic plans and objectives. Alignment is when the organization functions in a synergistic manner to promote its overall vision, strategy and plans. Organizations do not fail because they lack people, but because their people are unable to work together.
The Cause and Cost of Misalignment
What creates misalignment in the first place? People do. People become unable to fit into the overall goals of a group or team when there is no defined direction and focus; when the leadership does not do enough to create an atmosphere of transparency and trust; when individuals’ aspirations find no place in the collective vision; and when disruptive influences are not properly managed.
The cost to the organization of misalignment can be seen in the infighting among the various cliques and camps which develop; self-sabotaging acts by competing factions that result in increased bureaucracy; hoarding of vital information and resources that if freely distributed could greatly advance the organization’s goals; and finally, a negative impact on staff morale and the bottom line.
How To Handle Misalignment?
The most important thing in managing misalignment within organizations is to bear in mind that it is a people problem. People create the problem, and people will solve the problem. The task of dealing with divergence begins with not allowing them to form in the first place. People form into cliques and clans when they feel threatened.
Therefore, the first strategy for creating alignment is to build an atmosphere of trust, openness and transparency. When people understand that their personal or professional difference will not be an obstacle to their advancement, they will naturally work for the organization.
Additionally, it is important to have people own the company’s goals. If individuals find room for self-expression within the company’s goals, the result is that they will come to view the organization’s goals and objectives as their own. This will create high-value workers who impact positively on others and facilitate the emergence of a virtuous cycle of healthy competition that results in performance improvement across all levels of the organization.
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