How to Align a Diverse Workforce Around Common Goals?
- An organization’s ability to work as one team towards common goals and objectives is instrumental in business success
- At the same time, the combination of diverse skills and perspectives is increasingly recognized as a competitive advantage in business spheres
- Reconciling the strength of unity and the strength of diversity requires pragmatism, solid communication skills, and most of all agility
“In unity there is strength”, as the saying goes. This is unmistakably true in business spheres, where internal alignment around common goals and ways of doing things is a prerequisite to success.
At the same time, a growing impetus for diversity is reshuffling the way businesses recruit and approach workforce management.
How, then, can you unite an increasingly diverse workforce?
Unity Is Strength
The very definition of an organization — “a group of people who work together in an organized way for a shared purpose” — stresses the importance of cohesion and unity.
However, in practice, organizational unity and alignment are not so easy to achieve, as evidenced by the importance that today’s business leaders and managers are attaching to collaboration-boosting programs and initiatives.
In fact, most, if not all, organizations have been plagued by communication, collaboration and alignment issues: data silos and information asymmetries across departments, teams that do not use the same vocabulary and terminology and that are de facto unable to communicate effectively and understand each other, competing priorities that generate frustration or even conflicts among teams, and so on.
It makes total sense for organizational leaders to strive to foster and nurture unity. A business exists to pursue a vision, which is usually translated into a set of strategic objectives. The desired outcomes should be clearly formulated, communicated and embraced across the organization so as to guide both collective and individual action. All team members should be engaged and aligned around a common roadmap and around shared behaviors, values, roles, metrics, and ways of working.
In fact, Forrester research has found that businesses that successfully drive alignment between their sales and marketing functions grow 19% faster and are 15% more profitable.
And Gartner found that “78% of product managers who viewed improving collaboration internally as one of their top three roles, experienced low product failure rates.“
In a nutshell, team members’ ability to work as one is instrumental in business success.
What Does “Playing as a Team” Mean?
Cohesive teams usually demonstrate the following traits and behaviors:
- They understand and recognize complementarity in skills and abilities, which enables them to activate synergy and cross-skilling,
- They share information, knowledge and insights, contrast perspectives, exchange tips and best practices, debate, help each other find solutions and make decisions,
- They are able to set common goals and chart a common course towards achieving these objectives,
- Each team member takes responsibility for their own actions and performance, but also for the collective results: success and failure are shared by all.
The Benefits of Diversity
Increasing impetus for workforce diversity is another of today’s key trends. What started out as a call for equality (between genders, ethnies, belief systems, sexual orientations, backgrounds, and more) has evolved into a full-fledged business strategy, as organizations have grown aware of the tremendous business potential of diversity.
Navigating complex business landscapes and fiercely competitive markets requires creativity and the ability to think outside the box. Who better to come up with fresh ideas than people with singular experiences and backgrounds?
What’s more, bringing together diverse populations that can contrast, share and exchange different skills, perspectives, and insights often generates unexpected synergy and considerably expands an organization’s horizons.
“Diversity isn’t just the right thing to do. It’s the smart thing to do”, to quote from the Project Management Institute. This institution also provides edifying facts and figures regarding the performance associated with diversity: 88% of project leaders believe that culturally diverse and gender diverse teams increase project value. Besides, culturally diverse leadership is usually associated with higher organizational performance.
As a result, “D&I” (for Diversity and Inclusion) is no longer a “nice-to-have” relegated to the far end of corporate Annual Reports. Many organizations worldwide have been tweaking their recruitment process and systems to make them more inclusive of atypical candidates: neuro diverse people, immigrants, ex convicts, people without traditional qualifications, etc.
Aligning Diverse Perspectives Around a Common Vision
We’ve established the importance of both unity and diversity for today’s firms. This begs the question: How do you reconcile both? How do you get people with very different backgrounds, cultures and mindsets to work together as one towards common goals?
Here are a few insights:
- Unity is not uniformity. Unity calls for accepting and leveraging differences, not trying to eliminate them altogether.
- The stronger the vision, the stronger the connections. Before your people even get to establish positive interpersonal relationships, they should be able to understand that they’re all part of a common journey towards an exciting destination.
- Leverage your company culture: a culturally diverse workforce needs to find a “common ground” in the workplace.
- Communication is key. This is what will enable your people to “agree to disagree” in a healthy and constructive manner.
- It is, as often if not always, a matter of agility. Perfect unity and perfect diversity are both unattainable. It is up to every business to find and maintain the best balance, adjusting over time to adapt to change.