People Are Weird: A New Path to Meaningful Team Diversity

Are you watching the horizon?

If so, you have already spotted a sea change bearing down on the modern workplace like a double tsunami:

  1. Team diversity is growing ever more valued; and
  2. Traditional top-down business culture is dying.

While this binary dynamic is destabilizing the employment market and finds many organizations failing to cope with even one of those forces (let alone both), a true solution lies in how you choose to interpret the word “diversity.”

Diversity Pays

As startup culture disrupts old business models, it is also demolishing workplace norms.

Marketers and HR departments struggle to comprehend, motivate and balance demographic diversity in the modern workforce, while losing loyalty and traction with the very millennials whom they expect to uphold those norms.

Even as workplace diversity programs multiply and dinosaur sexism in Hollywood, Silicon Valley and beyond finally gets a widespread, long-overdue and blistering condemnation in the public forum, such progressive thought still gets pushback from people clinging to the old ways.

One thing should be brilliantly clear: The workforce is evolving, and forward-thinking organizations are proving that success comes as much from a diverse, inclusive culture as from any amount of organizational precision or goal-driven sweat.

Consider: Gender-diverse companies are 15% more likely to outperform their industry peers financially, and ethnically diverse companies are 35% more likely to do so, according to a 2015 report by McKinsey:

“More diverse companies, we believe, are better able to win top talent and improve their customer orientation, employee satisfaction, and decision making, and all that leads to a virtuous cycle of increasing returns.”

Some companies dive deeper into diversity efforts, not just by keeping gender and ethnicity top of mind when hiring and building teams, but also by confronting head-on the challenges of implicit bias in the workplace.

Ohio State University’s Kirwan Institute for the Study of Race and Ethnicity defines implicit bias this way:

“Also known as implicit social cognition, implicit bias refers to the attitudes or stereotypes that affect our understanding, actions, and decisions in an unconscious manner.  These biases, which encompass both favorable and unfavorable assessments, are activated involuntarily and without an individual’s awareness or intentional control.”

Sure, you say; black or white, gay or straight, all teammates are equal in my eyes so long as they do good work. You probably don’t believe in the archaic notion that women are better at design, or men at math, either.

Progressive recruiters, team leads and managers like you may strive to be truly color- and gender-blind, but it’s a lot harder than it sounds:  

Unfortunately, as the Harvard Business Review reported in 2016, most diversity programs aimed at reducing implicit bias actually fail by activating bias in participants.

Try checking some of your own assumptions at the door: Take any of Harvard University’s “Implicit Association Tests” online, and see what you learn about yourself. Trust me when I say (and this might sound click-baity, but it’s not), your results will surprise you.

Understanding Personality

Even if you manage to live and work utterly bias-free on issues of gender and ethnicity, you may be missing an important, universal workplace diversity dynamic that points to a desperate need for better tools for building teams: Personality.

At Veebit, we believe it’s time to think about diversity in a new – and potentially much more powerful – way:

People are weird. Understanding that weirdness can unlock your organization’s efficiency, growth and success.

You know from your own experiences, working in and managing teams, that individuals are unique and idiosyncratic.

From overbearing extroverts to introverts too shy to share their brilliance, from wildly uncollaborative mavericks to indecisive team players who couldn’t group-think their way out of the simplest problem, everyone’s personality determines how well they work, and work together.

Too often, different personalities blend about as well with your work culture and each other as sodium and water. Putting the wrong people together on a team can be costly and dangerous, just as putting the right people together can become a reliable, scalable engine for your company’s growth.

Here’s the secret: True diversity goals should take into account not just what your workers are – Latino or Asian, trans or straight, women or men – but also who they are and how they can work with each other to succeed.

This is the science – the chemistry, if you will – of teamwork. And it’s precisely where the Veebit Psychometric Model opens up a deep realm of valuable human analytics and insight.

VeebitTEAM’s psychometric testing platform employs this model to identify your team members’ inherent personality traits and coachable behavioral tendencies that rule how they interact with each other and the challenges they face.

This valuable psychometric data – coupled with your company’s KPIs and other internal data – can reveal your organization’s Success Traits and offer insights on employees and workgroups to inform how you recruit, develop and deploy your teams.

This psychometrics-driven human analytics approach provides answers to the thorniest questions managers wrestle with:  

  • Who will succeed best – and longest – in which roles?
  • What team dynamics are driving our success or holding us back?
  • What types of teammates interact best with each other under specific conditions of budget, time or pressure?
  • Which teammates might crush their goals on one team – but crush their teammates on another?

The traditional benchmarks that you are using to measure team performance right now might merely confirm common wisdom. For example: simply uniting empathetic leaders with confident, collaborative teammates helps them all synch well under pressure.

If you’re actively recruiting, assigning and promoting people based on race, gender and sexual identity, then you’re ticking the traditional diversity box, too.

And maybe that’s enough for you.

The Human Factor

However, using demographic profiles, basic KPIs and 360 performance reviews – unlike psychometrics – fall short of exposing human chemistry factors that help a team gel and excel.

Nor can traditional tools help people find their best fit with each other and your organizational culture.

In this increasingly volatile labor market, insights like this will help keep your team members smoothly synched – and personally engaged. And as it turns out, a growing trend of lagging workplace engagement is the critical the second wave of the tsunami:

Studies confirm that good old command-and-control, career-advancement-oriented business culture is dying because workers want feedback, interaction and a sense of purpose in their jobs.

Gone are the days of the gold-watch retirement party and the 20-year career (or even 10!) at one organization.

If current trends persist, jobs that last seven or even five years may grow scarcer too:

Click to view (source: State of the American Workplace, 2017 – Gallup, Inc.)

The 2017 “State of the American Workplace” study by Gallup, Inc. reports that the growing “gig economy” and the rise of self-branding and computerized job hunting have given younger workers license and confidence to bail out on jobs and colleagues that do not fulfill their desire to be valued and engaged.

Gallup learned that 51% of employees report being disengaged at work – only 33% said they are actively engaged.

The study found that employees want what we all do – better job security, better pay – but they also want more of a connection with their employer, and they are dissatisfied with what they are finding; Many, the report says, hunger for employment that values not just what they do, but who they are, and some assurance that their work will have impact and purpose:

Above all, it is a call to action. The one thing leaders cannot do is nothing. They cannot wait for trends to pass them by, and they cannot wait for millennials to get older and start behaving like baby boomers. That won’t happen. This workforce isn’t going to acclimate to the status quo.

There is an urgency for leaders to define and convey their vision more clearly — and rally employees around it. Gallup data reveal an unsettling pattern in the U.S. workplace. Employees have little belief in their company’s leadership. We have found that just:

22% of employees strongly agree the leadership of their organization has a clear direction for the organization.

  • 15% of employees strongly agree the leadership of their organization makes them enthusiastic about the future.
  • 13% of employees strongly agree the leadership of their organization communicates effectively with the rest of the organization.

So, think:

The last time you built a team, what drove your choice of people?

Did your memory of the players determine their roles? They did a good job on the last project.

Or was it your gut? They seem to work well together and I can count on them.

Or perhaps it was pure economics and logistics? They work fast. They stay on budget. They were available.

So, your team was – at least – good enough to keep your organization rolling, with all the needles in the black.

Now give yourself a frank reality check:

  • Did they finish the job happily and productively, or just because they were told to?
  • Did they innovate, or just execute?
  • How smoothly did they actually collaborate?
  • Did our company itself grow, or just our bottom line?

And ask one more question: What am I doing to keep people engaged, to give them purpose, and to make them feel valued in our team?

Now here’s the big question: Can your organization’s team-management practice keep pace with the ceaseless evolution of workplace culture?

Perhaps not. Because as the workplace continues to evolve, so will its workers. If you understand how they work together, and with your team, your organization will stay synched with that evolution – and grow.

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Mack Reed is Veebit’s Head of Product and oversees the information architecture, use case strategy and user-experience design for the company’s products.

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