Great minds think alike!

But is it always great to have everyone think the same? 

Teammates who all think the same may always be on the same page and find comfort in that, but they may also have a hard time coming up with new ideas, conceptualizing outside the box, or putting themselves in customers’ shoes.

One great thing about college is that you are introduced to fellow students from outside your hometown. You get to experience how you are both the same and different. There are several instances where people are more comfortable introducing themselves to other students who are like them.

While this can help you build community, especially being away from home, it can also limit the full potential of expanding your way of thinking. And isn’t that really what college is all about?

So while engineers tend to hang out with engineers and business students with business students and musical theater students…you get the point, finding courses, programs, and clubs that force you to mingle with other students on campus from different schools and colleges can be a really good thing for you, both personally and professionally.

In the work force you will find yourself working with others. Even if you get a job in your preferred profession, you most definitely will have co-workers who didn’t go to school for the same thing as you. Beyond that, you may find they don’t have the same education (more or less schooling), same socio-economic background, same generational experience (older or younger than you), religious beliefs, gender identities, skin color, the list goes on.

Business people in a meeting

A Harvard Business Review study from 2016 showed that at the time, “A 2015 McKinsey report on 366 public companies found that those in the top quartile for ethnic and racial diversity in management were 35 percent more likely to have financial returns above their industry mean, and those in the top quartile for gender diversity were 15 percent more likely to have returns above the industry mean.”

So with that in mind, how can you prepare to surround yourself with this diverse group of individuals and how can you help build a better team around you, should you get the opportunity to assemble one?

Think about diversity from the start

Remember that a diverse team means more than skin color and gender, it includes other aspects like age, disability, language, personality, and sexual orientation.

All of these differences showcase two types of diversity, inherent diversity – attributes we are born with, and acquired diversity – the ways of thinking acquired by experience.

Thinking about both of these will help you in constructing your team and the issues that could arise as well as the opportunities of having a different point of view discussed. Remember artists tend to agree with other artists and engineers communicate better with other engineers. While this is helpful to a point, again it can also lead to blindspots.

Build a connection with team members

As teams become comfortable with one another, they become more efficient and productive. This is due to the trust and confidence built up in each other. The newfound trust also comes from shared experiences in the workplace. Not just from working on projects but also from social interactions, some of which are manufactured artificially through team building exercises.

Dr. Alison Bailey, an instructor for the Center for Entrepreneurship, encourages team building activities with all of her classes.The team building activities supports the curriculum that incorporates practical exercises, group discussion, analysis, and the development of ethical organizational concepts.

“These educational games are founded in psychology theory which “students critically think through the objectives related to the group assignment. On the basis of the team discussion, ideas, problems, strategies are identified and plans for successfully completing the assignment,” said Dr. Bailey.

In Dr. Bailey’s CFE course, Organizational Values and Ethics in Startups, she explores the development of business ethics, corporate social responsibility, how organizations include DEI initiatives, and the ethical dilemmas faced by entrepreneurs, and their impact on start-ups and the broader community. In short, how being an effective leader means listening to both their employees and doing what’s right for their customers.

To help get her students into the headspace of thinking more altruistically, she gets them to think about themselves and others through team building exercises. These simple activities help members build trust and get them to know they can depend on one another.

woman in wheelchair giving presentation to co-workers

Dr. Bailey suggests trying a few of these exercises:

1. Learn someone’s life story in five minutes

This is a great exercise in listening, mirroring, and also helps individuals learn about each other’s interests, to ultimately build relationships. To play, place team members in breakout groups in no more than four at a time. Instruct them to tell their partner(s) their entire life story at that time. After the five minutes, the listener has to relay the life story from memory to the entire class. Great examples to share are stories of sports, hobbies, friends, family, fun facts or adventures.

2. Two truths and a lie

A popular one, known by some in social settings. Each team member tells the group three statements about themselves. Then, the entire group guesses which of the three statements is a lie. It encourages individuals to pay  close attention to personal traits and stories. As well as attention to detail, it also emphasizes  focus on consistency.

3. Ten common things

Divide your team into small breakout groups and ask them to spend ten minutes coming up with a list of ten things they all have in common. Provide an example, such as, they are all wearing shoes. If one of the students isn’t wearing socks, they can’t claim that as a “common thing.” Regardless of the answers, it will create a bond, generate discussion, and get the group thinking creatively.

Celebrate Differences in Your Employees

Remember that not everyone celebrates the same holidays, has the same home life, or works efficiently at the same time. So be prepared to offer individuals time off for religious holidays or flexible schedules to drop off kids at school, care for elderly parents, or take time for prayer/meditation.

According to the Cultural Intelligence Center, “Cultural intelligence or quotient (CQ) is the ability to relate and work effectively with people from different cultural backgrounds and it goes beyond existing notions of cultural sensitivity and awareness.”

Increasing your cultural intelligence will help you bond with your team and help you become a better leader.

Lead by Example

Being an effective leader is important because your team should trust you, the vision you’ve set forth, and the plan to execute that vision. Building that trust means creating and sustaining a real relationship with your team.

As a leader, and the builder of a team, you need to let your actions speak louder than your words. Talking about creating a diverse team and culture in your workplace without actively participating in it yourself can tell others that you don’t truly believe in what you’re saying and that they don’t matter as individuals.

This erodes trust and over time can destroy relationships among team members. Diverse teams and workspaces that continue to understand others’ point of view are more open to new ideas and innovation. Feeling safe, free, and accepted allows team members to share different, unique, and inspiring ideas that can help the entire team succeed.

If you are interested in learning more about how to create a more diverse, inclusive, and successful team, consider enrolling in the CFE’s Organizational Values and Ethics in Startups

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