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Leverage team diversity

Today there is much talk about the benefits of diversity. According to the widely acclaimed report by McKinsey, gender and ethnic diversity in organizations is related to higher economic output (2015). The most widespread form of diversity in work life concerns individuals’ work styles, the significance of which is particularly important in teamwork. The more diverse set of styles a team possesses, the wider and more creative performance palette it can deliver. The challenge for teams is to create collaboration cultures which spontaneously make use of diversity.

Inclusive collaboration

As in sports teams, mere piling up of diversity does not guarantee a broader or more creative performance palette. The value in diversity does not pop up by itself. Through times there have been teams with high member diversity but which teams can be described as stalled, quarrelsome or about to being torn apart to different directions. Teamwork will always be accompanied by discontinuities in communication and collaboration. Misunderstandings, interpersonal frictions and conflicts cannot be avoided. How the team is able to see and how it handles such discontinuities will determine whether diversity enhances or hampers the team’s performance.

Teams always include non-visible or less visible diversity which remains unrealized into added value or synergy for the team. If an introvert does not make himself or herself seen or, if he or she is not asked about things, his or her potentially valuable input remains unused. Diversities are potentials that must be made visible, handled and integrated to the team’s joint effort. Teams must nurture cultures where introverts or other less visible forms of diversity become visible, get included and leveraged. Team roles offer an excellent viewpoint for seeing and handling the diverse work styles in teams, with all attendant continuities and discontinuities.

Diversity: Team roles

Team work can be viewed as collaboration between different roles. A good, efficacious, problem solving and novelty creating team includes different team roles. Collaboration between the role incumbents means that the functions performed in these roles become included and used in the team’s efforts. It is difficult to expect major innovations from a team that doesn’t include a role incumbent pursuing new ideas. The figure below presents the five Team roles measured by WOPI. “Team leaders” and “Controllers” are placed on top as they appear most frequently among people who possess team leadership responsibilities.

Team roles

Diversity - teamroles
Team leader

Team leader is a strong-willed inspirer who is able to get people and things going. Discontinuities in collaboration may arise from excessive dominance and impatience often related to the role.


Controller is also strong-willed but instead of inspiring others he/she keeps people and things “on the track” by close monitoring of processes. Discontinuities in collaboration may arise from inflexibility and turning off others’ enthusiasm often related to the role.


Collaborator is a builder of cooperation, a person for whom doing things with others is most important. Discontinuities in collaboration may arise from the lack of independence and conflict avoidance often related to the role.


Specialist is task-oriented, focused, consistent and reliable worker. Discontinuities in collaboration may arise from focus on one thing at a time, time consuming manner and lesser interest in social interaction often related to the role.

Idea generator

Idea generator is a “propeller head” zestfully seeking new ideas. Discontinuities in collaboration may arise from running around and playing down of all ordinary often related to the role. The role is not absolutely necessary in teams performing routine tasks but indispensable in teams that pursue creative outcomes.

Collaboration between role incumbents always includes continuities and discontinuities illustrated by the solid and dotted arrow lines in the figure’s lower part. For example, Controllers and Specialists easily find common ground and their collaboration has natural continuity. Instead, collaboration between Controllers and Idea generators is often prone to discontinuities and easily becomes tangled.

Diversity: Themes

Different broad themes offer simpler divisions of team members into two big subgroups. Such divisions may be suitable for special groups with limited array of team roles, as in the case of leadership groups. The figure below illustrates divisions of team members into Thinkers vs. Doers and Introverts vs. Extroverts.


Diversity - themes
Thinker vs. Doer

The bipolar classification divides people into Thinkers and Doers. Discontinuities in collaboration are an age-old topic between people behaving in these opposite ways. However, teams need both kind of members, things should be done with thought. In todays hyper-speed world, thinkers seem to have become a rare breed. Executives rushing to do things doesn't help in solving strategic issues which always require good thinking.

Introvert vs. Extrovert

Another simple way divides people into Introverts and Extroverts. Discontinuities in collaboration between the two diametrically oriented individuals are also age-old. The socially less expressive introverts’ input tends remain unused in team work. Power displaying leadership teams are particularly prone to underuse the contributions of introverts.

Building collaborative cultures

Examination of team roles and themes leads to seeing and naming of diversity. In new teams such perusal sessions work in acquainting people with one another. Perusal sessions can be used for unlocking communication discontinuities in teams that have for a longer time been cemented in old positions. And, instead of pointing the finger at individual persons the talk on role-related behavior patterns enables handling of even difficult topics.

Because all team roles and themes count as valuable resources for the team, no single team member risks losing face. All conversation occurs within an equal, inclusive and appreciative atmosphere. A fruitful way is to begin the perusal from strengths affiliated to each team role and theme. This allows team members to become aware and truly acknowledge their personal competence. This step is followed by shifting the attention to the roles' and themes' potential drawbacks as personal proneness to communication and collaboration discontinuities. All joint discussions and interactions between team members deepen the awareness of continuities and discontinuities in collaboration.

Team roles and themes provide an easily adopted colloquial language for handling of work style diversity in teams. However, the most important goal is the creation of a diversity-inclusive culture. In new teams, peoples tendency of digging into defensive positions can be avoided before it starts happen. In old teams, taboos swept under the carpet may be exposed. The goal is to create a culture that includes and draws upon diversity. Synergy is not reached until diversity is integrated to the team's joint effort.


The concern of this article has been on diversity with the goal of broadening the team’s performance palette. The impact of diversity upon engagement and well-being is obviously of equal importance and deserves a treatment of its own. Overall, the most important reason for the growing importance of diversity relates to the enormous increase in environmental complexity. The significance of diversity grows as teams carrying out simple routine tasks shift toward performing broad and complex tasks. Diversity matters particularly much for teams pursuing the creation of new things, in planning new products and services and marketing them. Diversity promotes a broader influx of ideas and a wider set of alternative solutions.


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