I believe the sign of a truly evolved team is one in which all team members can work well together, day-in and day-out and at the same time openly admit to never needing to spend time together outside work ‘as friends’.
The people we work with don’t need to be our friends. Don’t get me wrong – friends at work can be a truly fabulous benefit of joining a team or organisation. I’ve made many lifelong friendships at work. But friendship is not necessary to a productive working relationship – as long as two essential ingredients are present: trust and respect.
In my last blog I wrote about the bond of trust as essential to vulnerability – to sharing your views with honesty and authenticity.
If trust is essential to vulnerability, respect is essential for team members to show up and lean in with their full complement of talents and strengths. To develop the bond of respect is to develop a high level of openness, appreciation, and tolerance to difference; ultimately allowing teams to benefit from the true advantage that diversity brings.
For decades, teams have been using personality profiling tools like the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) or the DiSC personality test in team building workshops. While these tools are great for building self-awareness, the main way they support team building is by demonstrating the value of difference. By understanding one’s own personality type and the relative strengths and weaknesses associated with that type, we may come to appreciate how other’s strengths complement our own. A robust team is not one where everyone interprets the world in the same way, but one in which members think and act in divergent ways.
Of course – diversity comes not just from differences in personality, but also from differences in ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, religion, and ability. The business case for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) is well documented. The 2022 McKinsey Diversity Matters report examined the composition of top management and boards of 366 public companies across a range of industries in Canada, Latin America, the UK and the US. They found that racially and ethnically diverse companies are 35% more likely to perform better; and that companies with gender diversity are 15% more likely to outperform competitors.
So why don’t we embrace diversity quicker? Why must we set diversity targets in organisations to push ourselves to create more diverse teams?
The answer is that while diversity can be a significant competitive advantage it can also be a source of conflict. It is a natural human tendency to gravitate towards people who are “like us” – people who will validate perspectives and our points of view – rather than pick out the holes and flaws in our thinking. Difference makes us uncomfortable, but if we can contain our own discomfort and see beyond our own egos to the advantages that difference brings, it can also be the fastest track to innovation and growth.
Canva is an Australian success story and an example of a company actively embracing diversity and inclusion as a driver of growth. Whilst they acknowledge they still have a long way to go, Canva actively set and are accountable to diversity metrics in their teams. As reported on their website in 2021, 50% of roles hired in the US were women, 21% of engineering hires in Australia were women (compared to the Australian average 19%), and 41% of product hires were women (compared to the Australian average 37%). Canva Co-Founder and COO Cliff Obrecht believes that “a diverse team is critical to enabling differences in thinking” and that “diversity in thought and creativity enables better decision making and is a benchmark for success”. Canva is available in over 190 countries and has been translated to over 100 languages, an achievement made possible by the breadth and diversity of the Canva team.
When it comes to building respect in teams, it’s important to remember that we don’t need to like someone to respect them. We don’t need to be friends with our colleagues; we may never choose to hang-out with them outside work. But this does not mean that we cannot develop a healthy level of respect. Friendship, even love, can emerge from a relationship built on respect, but neither are a prerequisite for respect.
Teams who foster mutual respect contain a high level of regard for one another’s strengths and talents; a deep appreciation for the value that each member brings to the collective. Instead of seeing difference as a threat to one’s own ego, to respect someone is to hold them in “unconditional positive regard”, a concept introduced by Carl Rogers and the humanistic psychologists in the 1970s. That is, to hold someone in high esteem regardless of one’s own preferences and judgements towards them.
To show respect is to accept others for their quirks, differences and nuances of behaviour. To seek out their virtues and values, and appreciate the ways they challenge your thinking instead of feeling threatened by them. On the flipside, when we feel respected, we are more likely to show up, to reveal our strengths and talents, to share our views openly and not shy away from the debate for fear of judgement or retribution.
In connected teams – all members understand each other’s roles and the strengths they bring. They take time to understand the depth and breadth of knowledge and experiences available to them – and they celebrate the opportunity of diversity instead of feeling threatened by it.
If you’re a leader an essential question to ask yourself is this, how can I build the most diverse team possible? And second to that, how can I help my team lean into their differences and appreciate diversity to our greatest advantage?
Diversity targets are a great way to motivate and encourage leaders to move past their bias of seeking other people “like me”. They are necessary to giving underrepresented populations a look-in at the recruitment and internal promotion stage. But they alone do not guarantee that organisations and leaders will fully take advantage of the opportunity that diversity brings. To do that, we must do better at showing respect; listening more, asking more questions, welcoming different points of view, and challenging ourselves to be open to difference.