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Diversity and Inclusion - a Maverick Team perspective

Article first published in The Maverick Paradox Magazine

Photo credit Brittani Burns

Diversity and inclusion. Surely this is the domain of well-meaning conformists in the HR department? Or maybe concern to special interests: women, black and minority ethnic colleagues or the LGBTI community?

Of course, diversity and inclusion are the right things to champion, morally and ethically.

Here's why else diversity and inclusion matter for Mavericks.

Good decisions require data. Execution requires buy-in to decisions. Mavericks care passionately about doing the right thing, and getting things done. And Socialised Mavericks don’t give a hoot where the idea comes from (in that respect, they differ from Extreme Mavericks, who will continue to push their idea however disastrous or stupid that may be).

Imagine a team of five people contemplating a shared challenge and writing potential ideas on a Post-It note. They’re all pretty bright and come up with five Post-It notes each. 25 possible ideas.

Pretty good, until we come to cluster the ideas.

Team LD is made up of very experienced people, with very similar backgrounds, education, family and cultural backgrounds. In other words, its diversity is low.

When we come to cluster the post-it notes, we find that we don’t have 25 ideas. We have maybe 14. Each team member contributed two or maybe three ideas that were the same as someone else’s. Like this:

Figure 1 - Low diversity, many similar ideas

Now let’s imagine the same task, with a team from a very much more diverse range of backgrounds, education, family, culture and so on. Team HD is made up of very experienced people too. This team completes the same task, generating five ideas each.

When Team HD comes to cluster the post-it notes, they find that each team member has contributed at least one idea that overlaps with another team member. Instead of 14 different ideas, we have 19 to consider. Like this:

Figure 2 - High diversity, wider range of different ideas

I want to be clear. Team HD is no smarter or more experienced than Team LD. It is just more diverse. The wider range of backgrounds means that the team generates not more ideas, but more different ideas.

As a Socialised Maverick, that’s interesting to me because I don’t like just considering the same old, same old. In fact, that’s something I am almost allergic to. I want as many of the best ideas as I can.

If I can increase the diversity of the teams I work with, it looks like I’m visibly more likely to get that.

There’s more. Let’s go back to team LD and curse it with a common curse of expert teams: team members arguing loudly in favour of their ideas. As we discuss which ones to run with, maybe the team leader has too much sway, or some voices are much louder than others. There may be smart team members who are too quiet and don’t speak up enough.

What’s going to happen to our pool of 14 different ideas? Some are simply not going to be considered, or not considered enough. They either get overlooked or only partly developed. Like this:

Figure 3 - Low inclusion, many good ideas not considered

Nasty! The original 25 ideas from this excellent team have gone down to three ideas, and two half ideas. What’s more, two team members’ ideas are no longer in the mix at all, and another two are barely there. You can imagine what has happened to their level of buy-in.

Yet we see this all the time. Low-inclusion behaviours like over-advocacy, domination, talking over others limits options and leads to poor decisions.

Let’s go back to Team HD, though, and bless it with one of the defining characteristics of the best teams: high levels of inclusion. This team considers all of the 19 different ideas from the Post-it note exercise carefully. None of them is excluded too quickly. This happens:

Figure 4 - High inclusion, additional ideas created

On examination, two of the original ideas have been watered down. However, two entirely new ideas have popped up. What’s more, those ideas are not any one team member’s property: they arose from the work of the team (something we sometimes call 'team synergy').

Everyone’s ideas, plus some new common ideas, are still in play. Inclusive behaviours like open enquiry, clarification and building on each other’s ideas have led to a situation where there are more good ideas than the team started with, and every team member still has skin in the game.

Remember what we said. Socialised Mavericks are interested in getting to the best ideas, they don’t care who came up with them and they love to generate new ideas. As a result of a combination of high team diversity and a high incidence of inclusive behaviours, team HD has many more good ideas on the table than team LD.

Of course, there are decisions then to be made, but when it comes to who has the most good ideas, and is most emotionally invested in the final result, I know which team I would want to be working on!

This is why diversity and inclusion matter to Mavericks. In a team setting, anything we can do to increase diversity is likely to expand the pool of different ideas to consider in solving the sorts of complex problems we love to get involved in. Actions that then move teams to highly inclusive ways of thinking, where they build on each other’s ideas rather than fight over a limited pool of ideas, keep more of the good ideas in play and even generate completely new ones. Inclusive behaviours – asking not telling, enquiry not advocating – also maintain the buy-in across the team that is going to be essential to get things done.

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