“Diversity: The art of thinking independently together.” (Malcom Forbes Sr.)
Projects are, by definition, unique, new, individual, complex, and diverse. It takes a great team to conquer all project tasks and to meet the set goals. For many years I have been working in all sorts of projects in different business areas with very different people. The projects I have been involved in as a project manager as well as an advisor have been managed applying classic project management methods as well as agile or hybrid methods. For me it has proven to be the most successful way to choose a very diverse project team when selecting my resources, because I truly believe that diverse project teams rock!
Before we look at how a diverse project team can be defined and nominated, let us have a look first at what diversity means and where this term has its origin. One major aspect of diversity is equal rights, and this is a topic addressed even centuries ago and through literally all historic eras. In Ancient Greece women hat to fight for equal rights because they were neither allowed to participate in most areas of their democratic system, nor could they take on theatric roles and be present on stage in their amphitheaters, just to mention a few areas. Same applies for the Roman Empire where there have been great differences in status or ranking. Women, however, had a much better position in the Roman Empire (compared to that of women in Ancient Greece) for their life took part in public which made it possible that they led a rather independent life. But social ranking and status was nonetheless a big topic and equal rights were far from being existant. The French Revolution (1789 – 1793) brought forth so-called ‘women clubs’ where women met, discussed politics and important business, exchanged their expertise and formed strong networks. In the beginning of the 20th century, British Suffragettes were the ones fighting for equal rights as well as for the right to vote. In India it matters until today to which ‘varna’ or ‘jati’ one belongs, even though by the act of law discrimination due to caste has been officially banned since 1950.
Diversity, in a nutshell, means recognizing all sorts of differences, whether addressing gender, age, geographical origin, race, religion, size, color of skin, marital status, sexual orientation or social status. It is about welcoming the benefit of being different, because difference brings forth a multitude of benefits for shared opinions, perspectives and ideas lead to better decisions, results and thus, in the long run, to success. It is by far not only about women’s rights and gender equality, even though, of course, on a global scale, the gender wage gap, gender, and religious discrimination seem to dominate the organizations. Diversity is a much broader topic to address, and it expands to a tremendous area; it is ongoing and never-ending work to be done.
In project driven organizations the project team is literally the heart of every project or program. And this team is always ‘puzzled together’ by all sorts of people containing – hopefully – the necessary skills (both people and methodological skills) to work well together and to bring the project to a success. For both organizations and project managers it is of vital importance to create a diverse team, to be competitive with an outmost performance.
The advantages of a diverse team are obvious, if we look at it from all possible points of view:
- We can bridge the talent gap and have all sorts of experiences and knowledge unified in one corporate entity, in one team.
- We increase and promote creativity and innovation, because diverse teams bring forth different mentalities, different approaches, different cultures and mindsets which enables the entire team to ‘think outside the box’, to apply new methods and to solve problems much more efficient and effective.
- We gain higher market shares and add a welcoming, positive competitive edge to the team’s performance by establishing an environment of unity, respect, and tolerance.
- We break negative stereotypes, encourage social mobility, boost confidence, and build strong relationships with all team members and stakeholders, creating a ‘safe haven’ for fresh mindsets.
Successful project teams should be diverse in all cognitive and demographic areas because inclusion means, everyone feels and is welcome which leads to every team member engaging to 100% and performing extremely well due to intrinsic motivation and true team spirit.
The problem now is, however, that we human beings are way more influenced by biases, stereotypes and prejudices rooted deep down in our DNA. Yes, corporate organizations try to raise awareness on those important topics of diversity and inclusion, but fear of change and preference for stability make us reluctant to really embrace diversity. We are still very often stuck with our old, fixed mindset instead of applying the necessary growth mindset. Organizations need to continuingly try to create an inclusive working environment that welcomes diversity. Biases desperately need to be eliminated from hiring processes, for one. A corporate culture of true appreciation, trust, openness, and constant feedback needs to be established and truly implemented. It certainly is not enough to print nice mission statements with golden letters and present them in the lobbies of corporate entities.
The leaders must take the lead and enable their teams to embrace diversity. The project managers are responsible for getting the message across that diversity is both wanted and needed to keep the team going and to meet the projects’ objectives. Diversity must be a vital part of the organization’s long-term strategy and the management needs to have all future skills necessary to literally be able to set their sails into a successful future1). A colleague of mine, Christian Bäumer, recently gave his definition of what culture is and I really think he hits the spot here by saying: “Culture is the sum of all selves, of all egos.” The skilled project manager needs to be an empathic leader who can build genuine trust and confidence in the team. A true leader who can appreciate each single team member, accepting them for who they are in all their diversity. Of course, communication skills, visibility, managing change and transformation processes and the ability to be both motivated and to motivate the team sum up the future skills of a good leader.
I love working with diverse and absolutely heterogenous teams! For me it is a tremendous advantage having the young, dynamic and ‘wild rookies’ as much as the old hands. It is a blessing having people of different sexes, races, and social backgrounds on my project teams. It is good to have team members literally from all around the world, and I love working with my international colleagues. Do we have conflicts? Of course, we have! And I truly appreciate each factual conflict because these are the essence of project management. We need different opinions, personalities, we all have different strengths and weaknesses. We have different experiences and expertise, seeing different threats and opportunities. All of this makes our project successful in the long run. Disagreements due to diversity often are the backbone of the projects I am involved in. And I appreciate them!
If you are a skilled project or program manager, you will embrace diversity and inclusion, when you initiate and kick-off your projects. Explain the advantages to your upline and executives and support creating a culture of strong communication, growth mindset and exchange of ideas. Because in the end, this is what really matters in successful project management – setting up the perfectly diverse team to master whatever project comes our way! Diverse project teams simply rock!
As trainer and coach, I facilitate leaders and executives to set their sails into a successful leader’s future. My profession is, at the same time, my passion. As certified translator and project manager I not only travelled the world, but I also gained valuable insight into different branches, areas, and cultures. Leading international, diverse project teams and being involved in different projects and endeavors for me always is awarding. My expertise therefore lies in leadership and project management and I have thoroughly experienced both sides! Wise Aristotle once put it in perfect words: “You cannot change the direction of the wind, but you can adjust your sails to reach your destination.” Last year a dream came true, and I published my first book: “Futureskills for Leadership. Segel setzen für die Führungszukunft.” (Haufe, 2020). I am a full-blood networker and love to exchange expertise – H2H, from human to human.