Team Diversity:  Unleash the Power in Your Organization

Commentary

Diversity is a core value that enables teams to "run with it" to achieve high-performance results.  It is essential for managers and leaders to identify that diversity is one of the factors essential to a winning team.  If they fail to recognize this, they are missing an opportunity to unleash the talent that is working for them.

Most people innately have a desire to be great — to stretch their boundaries and perform at the highest possible levels.  We have found that unleashing that potential requires trust.  It means keeping promises, no lapsing on commitments, and saying, "We believe in you" — even when teams occasionally fail.

In our ongoing employee education, we frequently play a game called "Win As Much As You Can."  Initially teams compete against each other with the idea that the team that wins the most money wins the game.  Eventually someone discovers that if all the teams cooperate in their strategies rather than competing against each other, they all can win more money than even the most successful single team.  The game is an eye-opener!

About 90 percent of the time, we find that teams that have been coached in working together for a solution — with multiple ideas and perspectives — come up with a winning solution.  These teams demonstrate more mutual respect and unity and less of an "us and them" attitude than is typical.

In the past few years, we have trained all San Antonio employees in team building and diversity.  We also conduct diversity training for new employees in all areas of the organization, including senior management.  Courses are adapted over time so we are not rerunning the same modules for employees.  Originally we used outside resources for these programs and had great experiences working with Architecture For Excellence and Team Dynamics, giving these programs a healthy start and getting them well underway.  Now our sustaining efforts are through internal sessions.

Diversity encompasses much more than race, sex, and other commonly discussed elements.  Education, job experience, behavioral traits, and other differences all play a part.  Each of us has embedded personality traits that affect the way we think, handle information, make decisions, and work with others.  Using Myers-Briggs Type Indicator diagnostics to examine and understand individual behavior, for example, one finds that some people like to think out loud, while others don't speak as often.  Some people like to make quick decisions; others want to consider the alternatives.  There are myriad traits among individuals that work synergistically to create an extremely powerful resource.  The person sitting next to you is very likely to have a different perspective from you, and that's a good thing.  They see and understand what you do not, and vice-versa.

When our teams first started hiring new members, most of the time they hired someone in their own likeness, replicating their strengths as well as their shortcomings.  Now our teams look for diversity — it's a tool they use.  Each team identifies and posts their mission, suppliers, customers, products, and key metrics.  They also post recognitions received by the team and its members, as well as behavioral information identifies through Myers-Briggs about the individual team members.  In every conference room, we display a reminder that people have different traits — a good way to keep diversity fresh in people's minds.

The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator is not the only tool for identifying behavioral differences, but it is easy to understand and apply, and it provides insight into how we and others behave.  Understanding how others like to communicate, their sense of urgency about making decisions, and how they like to receive information builds strength in interpersonal relations.

This understanding gives us valuable insight when we are dealing with customers both inside and outside the organization.  In addition to team-based management, about a year ago we began using Quality Function Deployment (QFD) with customers.  The QFD process helps mitigate the "us and them" perception because it promotes cooperation rather than adversarial relationships.  It has proved to be a powerful way to increase our sales.

One example of teamwork using QFD involved our request for quotation (RFQ) process.  We learned through a QFD project that customers were unhappy with this process.  To address the issue, a team of sales, marketing, and engineering personnel performed a Kaizen Blitz and developed a way of reducing a 5- to 10-day RFQ to an average of 24 to 48 hours.  The team decreased the number of required signatures and changed a series of steps to a process of parallel reviews.  The diverse perspectives of our team members helped make this QFD project a success.

Reflecting trust in our employees is another way of bringing out their best ideas and efforts.  Several years ago, when morale was low and we faced a difficult challenge of turning around the operation and building profits, there was relatively little capital to invest in the plant.  I used a significant portion of the capital available after a major reorganization to remodel the breakroom and several restrooms  This investment demonstrated that we care about employees and that we plan to stay in San Antonio.

We no longer find it necessary to have a suggestion program.  Our teams are empowered and enabled through our goal deployment process to identify needed changes and accomplish them.  They do not ask permission; they simply report the changes and the results of these changes.  Our team members are practicing a discipline called management.

Some of the lessons we learned from these experiences:

  • Once we started training people on teaming and diversity, we had to distribute decision-making and get out of employees' way.  Way also had to provide them the tools and information they needed to make decisions.
  • Sometimes we've taken steps backward, and then learned what to do or not do next time.
  • Team diagnostics are essential.  Conflict occurs and we must deal with it.

Throughout all of these efforts, we have continued to learn from each other.  Team diversity and maturity are part of a process that never stops.  There are always new people coming in, and new challenges to be met.


Douglas F. Carlberg is president of M2 Global Technology, Ltd., a veteran-owned small business that produces a broad range of microwave component and systems and provides contract manufacturing services for aerospace industries.  He also serves a president of the Association for Manufacturing Excellence, Southwest Region, and is a member of the Shingo Prize board of governors.