Today, businesses have become more diverse than ever, with people from various backgrounds & cultures adding immense value to every organization. In fact, workplace diversity enables project managers to leverage new skills and methods to solve problems. It also improves creativity by fostering diverse points of view and ideas. According to a study by McKinsey & Co, companies with diversity are 35% more likely to perform better than the ones without.

Here are 7 ways project managers can lead a diverse team effectively.

1. Have an Open-Door Policy

 Different people like to raise issues in different manners, and not always in an open forum. As a project manager, it’s essential to understand their concerns and remove the barriers. It will help your project team be comfortable with ambiguity, especially when they’re working virtually and across borders. The key is to be seen as someone who genuinely listens to, and acts upon the concerns of their diverse teams.

2. Invest Time to Learn About Them

The only way you can identify and appreciate the diverse talents of your project team is by getting to know them. Spend time asking your team members about their background, their educational experiences, their family environment and what motivates them. Such questions will help you quickly identify common interests, making it easy to work together. It will also help you understand how you’re different and can complement each other.

3. Build a Common Team Culture

When you lead a diverse project team, there are bound to be occasional conflicts and a project manager must be equipped to handle them. Create a set of ground rules that helps them understand what consistencies to expect among all the differences they experience. Otherwise, misunderstandings will often escalate to conflict. For example, make sure that you evenly spread project tasks among your team based on their skills. Be objective when it comes to setting task deadlines without patronizing anyone. Also, conduct the same training program for everyone, for any given project role (e.g software developer), regardless of their background, gender or race. This will ensure that no one feels discriminated or left out.

4. Communicate Regularly

Team members appreciate openness and sincerity from their project managers. Share the thoughts, feelings and rationale behind your decisions to unify your team. Be upfront about the situation and involve your team members as much as possible. This will give them a sense of inclusion and make everyone feel like they’re a part of the team. If your project team is not part of the decision-making process, then it might get lost in communication what they need to do to make your project a success.

5. Take a Stand Against Inappropriate Behavior

Even when no one has voiced a complaint, if you find someone say or do anything inappropriate, don’t let it pass. For example, everyone in your team might laugh about a sexist joke, but that doesn’t mean it’s an appropriate behavior. Not addressing the issue will send the wrong signal to your project team. Although it might be slightly uncomfortable to deal with immediately, members of your team would appreciate your attention and morale. This makes for an overall better work environment.

6. Educate your Team

If you just hired a team member from an underrepresented community, then it’s very likely that they’ve been surrounded by people who are different from them, for most of their life. So it’s essential to educate your project team on how to make their new colleague feel welcome. For example, before the new member joins your project, have a small team meeting explaining why you hired this person - what skills impressed you, what project role you’ve envisioned for them and how they’ll add value to your project. This will produce a sense of fairness and parity among team members, and create respect for the new joinee. Also, design project tasks that requires each team member to work with your new employee, so they get to know each other and bond well.

7. Determine Your Own Biases

Many times, we might inadvertently indulge in biases that we may not even know that we have. They might be due to our own prejudices, background, culture, or even past experiences. It’s essential to identify them early on to avoid future pitfalls. For example, whether it’s an impromptu discussion, a mentoring session or a performance review, see if you’re spending more time with specific team members, who are similar to you or from a majority community. Take an online test to learn about the various ‘unconscious’ biases in the workplace. This will help you identify your own biases and effectively deal with them.

Wrapping up

Teamwork is the result of integration, not isolation. By creating a positive environment that encourages open communication and mutual respect, you’ll be able to build a high-performing project team with a rich set of skills and ideas. However, as a project manager, it’s important to understand that no matter how experienced you are, it’s very likely that you’ll occasionally encounter some difficult situations. In such cases, reach out to the company HR or your own mentors for advice. The key is to build a great rapport with your team members to enable them to deliver great performance.


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ABOUT THE AUTHOR: For more than 8 years, Sreeram Sreenivasan has worked with various Fortune 500 Companies in areas of Business Growth & Marketing Strategy. He’s the Founder of Ubiq BI, a BI Platform for SMBs & Enterprises. He also runs the Fedingo blog that covers a wide range of marketing topics. 

Online 2/5/2018
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