We are living in the post Covid era where remote and virtual working are now common. This means that talent pools have become even more international and diverse, and this in turn is driving an urgent need for international organisations to be adopt inclusive practices in their leadership and key teams.   If we add to this the rapid rise in business innovation, and the need for even more agile teams, it means that Inclusive virtual teams have become an absolute business necessity. At least for organisations wishing to expand and grow across boundaries. 

Today, it does not matter where talent is located, or who they are, if they can excel in the role. And isn’t this the way it should be?

What will matter is:

  • Can the person get access into the daily virtual team meetings?  And do they have the technology to contribute virtually?
  • Can they thrive in a diverse environment and collaborative with “others”?
  • Can they build trust with people who are different to them? 

There will be a resistance of course to both virtual teams and open talent markets, as whilst full diversity brings many advantages, it can also bring its own challenges. 

So, it is timely to explore this further, and my intention here is to stimulate thinking on this critical topic as we enter a new phase of virtual working.

In the discussion that follows, we are using a broad definition of diversity & inclusion – including differences in gender, age, ethnicity, culture, religious practice, sexual orientation, to name some (but not all). 

There is a lot written about the advantages of diverse and inclusive teams, and there is already a lot of well documented research.

  • D&I teams help drive innovation
  • They will also challenge old paradigms and offer some new ways of working
  • They are more likely to understand and predict market changes
  • They broaden the brand impact across broader market segments
  • D&I organisations are linked to improved business performance (Mc Kinsey 2020)

Having worked with multiple “diverse and inclusive” international teams over the last decade, I have witnessed some of the clear results that come from this commitment to inclusion. Below are some of my observations:  

  • To build team cohesion, D&I teams should spend time to orientate around a compelling purpose and allow everyone to connect to that purpose in their own way.
  • A compelling purpose arises out of who we are as a team and business, as we face into the changing context. A compelling purpose is genuine and often creative. It is also inclusive by nature.  
  • Diverse & Inclusive teams are less inclined to slip back into a predictable “conditioned” purpose statement that arises out of set of old fashioned beliefs. “Group think” resists new purposing and this holds back a more compelling reason to engage fully. 
  • Once the D&I team aligns around a business purpose, through their own diverse stories, their motivation become clear. They are less motivated by “ politics” or being favoured by the leader or to copying others in the team, as they are comfortable aligning around the work to be done and their role in it.
  • Then they can move ahead to bringing this purpose alive through great work. D&I teams drive quality execution through committed engagement as they have a genuine and personalised motivation.
  • Increasingly execution happens through project and boundary spanning teams with interdisciplinary capability that is naturally diverse and adaptive.  The execution project team feels more engaged if they witness the top team mirroring their own diversity.
  • D&I team often have the tough and challenging conversations that can be missing when there is a “conforming” team.  These challenging conversations go a long way to forming genuine trust in the team.
  • Trust allows open expression and different points of view and these challenging dialogues produce better decisions. I have witnessed leaders changing their perspectives after robust team discussions, and, as a result, being more comfortable that they are now making the best possible decision. 
  • A D&I team learns through its own ways of working to recognize different strengths and use these to advantage when executing strategy. 
  • D&I teams have greater flexibility that is important as agile projects changes and twist to match the changing nature of work. Inclusive leaders draw upon difference as core driver of getting execution to happen through multiple pathways. 

So, as you face into your future ask yourself:

  • How important will innovation, agility, and engagement be in the near future?
  • What could result from greater diversity and inclusion in our business particularly in our most important teams?
  • How could I become a more inclusive leader by focusing on important business outcomes and less on my own comfort with a certain type of person?

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