The Art of Building an Amazing Team

Steps to get and grow teams that bring diversity, talent, and creative discourse to the table.

The Art of Building an Amazing Team

Diversity is not just good business — it’s good for business. Companies with the most ethnic and racial diversity in management are 35 percent more likely to do better than average financially, and 15 percent better for those with the most gender diversity.

But diversity in corporate and creative settings goes beyond the traditional definition. “Diversity” can encompass everything from racial and gender diversity to diversity in experience, expectations, and thought processes — and maximizing these varying backgrounds, beliefs, and workflows can be a major benefit to your business.

Our first annual Adobe for All Summit was focused on exactly this — advancing the company’s diversity and inclusion. Sessions focused on helping employees not only understand the importance of building high-performing, diverse teams, but also how. Read on for more insights.

Diversity boosts team performance

Every organization has two types of teams — those that innovate and those that implement, explains Margaret Ann Neale, professor of organizational behavior at Stanford Graduate School of Business. Implementing teams are most effective when they have more similarities than differences, but they fall short on innovation.

“When we’re surrounded by people who are just like us, they have the same expectations and see the world in the same way,” Professor Neale explains. “We learn when we see a discrepancy between what we expect and what we observe. When the people around us see the world in the same way, the notion of discrepancy driving us to learn is less likely to happen.”

Diverse teams are much better at innovation, which is why companies that incorporate more diversity are better able to push their corner of the market in new — and lucrative — directions. Demographic diversity brings a corresponding diversity of ideas and perspectives, which promotes innovative and new ways of thinking. Professor Neale posits that this is because diverse teams tend to be more willing to engage in debate and controversy. This more dynamic — even conflicted — environment is a necessary condition of innovation.

This, then, helps decision-making, which improves when a group includes alternative perspectives. Teams that include a wide range of ages and different geographic locations make better business decisions 87 percent of the time. Diverse groups make more accurate decisions than non-diverse groups, and ethnically-diverse groups use more information when making those decisions. Racially diverse jury panels in criminal cases, for example, look more closely at facts and make fewer factual errors in their assessment than do homogeneous panels, according to a study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.

While sameness within a team can be an innovation-killer, teams tasked with implementation do see benefits from uniformity. Getting things to run “smoothly” is often encouraged by having everyone think and act alike. It’s essential for managers to realize that however useful that dynamic may be for specific implementation scenarios, focusing the larger company culture on avoiding differences and conflict will make it difficult or impossible to build a culture of innovation.

How to build an amazing team

Creating a dynamic, innovative team starts with a prioritization of diversity and, even, celebrating the friction it brings to group work. All team members bring a unique perspective to the process, and managers must recognize this richness, encouraging the creativity and individual voice of each person. Beyond that, organizations should focus on four steps: having a vision, anticipating conflict, encouraging participation, and working to consistently recalibrate their processes.

Have a vision

“A good way of helping activate diverse creativity is to create and share a vision your team can rally around,” say Lisa Goldman and Kate Purmal, co-authors of The Moonshoot Effect.

“We tend to think of visionaries as inventors, but vision encompasses far more than simply invention,” says Lisa. “It can be about finding a better way to serve your customers in a customer service setting. It can be about finding better ways to engage your employees in a work setting. It can be about making the world a better place, so it’s far broader than just inventing a product or service.”

Giving team members something to rally around helps provide a North Star when group dynamics inevitably heat up. When conflict arises, it’s easy to lose track of the group’s aims if its vision and mission are not explicitly articulated.

Expect conflict

“When you have a diverse team, you need to anticipate conflict and prepare to deal with it from the outset,” says Professor Neale. Pre-meeting preparation can help: Learn about those who will be on your team — what are their particular tendencies and their participation style? Speak with them about the potential for friction on the team and the benefits of staying open and receptive to difference.

Expecting conflict motivates managers to bring more and different information forward to help the team work out problems together. Diverse teams are more concerned with reaching accurate conclusions than with maintaining conformity.

Encourage participation

“It’s also important to cultivate an environment in which it’s acceptable to express and hear healthy discourse, dissenting opinions, and divergent viewpoints,” says Professor Neale. This can be done by defining the task as a problem to be a solved, not a decision to be made, a shift in thinking that encourages advocacy.

Even with an advocacy mindset, not all group members will be as active as others. Some 80 percent of a group’s air time tends to be taken by 20 percent of people. Professor Neale advises taking advantage of the knowledge and expertise throughout the team by increasing those who are willing to actively participate. There are three challenges to address: making sure information is available to all, that perspectives on the info are being shared among the group members, and that everyone’s voice is being heard.

Draw out those who have quieter voices, and encourage those who shy away from conflict to see it as constructive and informative. Team leaders who see their members wanting to “go along to get along” should be alert for the problems this can cause.

Constantly calibrate

Another essential element is soliciting, giving, and receiving real-time feedback, which allows you to build trust. Ideally, feedback will flow freely up, down, and across teams, according to Weston McMillan, head of management development and leadership at Adobe.

“It’s critical, when working with and for others, to have open, honest, calibration conversations about what’s expected and what’s getting done.” he says. “I even hesitate to call these conversations ‘feedback’ as that word can trigger defensiveness. Many of us hold the belief — even unconsciously — that feedback, whether positive or negative, is directly related to our sense of self-worth.” He cites Carol Dweck’s work on growth mindset as a better way to think about feedback.

“A calibration perspective is more aligned to how we might view the relationship between a thermostat and furnace,” he explains. “They’re working in partnership to maintain an experience of 68 degrees, and feedback of either too hot or too cold from the thermostat simply points to the adjustments needed to achieve the agreed upon goal. The furnace doesn’t take it personally.”

“After your team accomplishes its task, it’s smart to do a post-mortem – allowing an opportunity to reflect openly and objectively on what worked and what didn’t – this keeps the learning going and sets up positive, calibrating dynamics for the next time,” Weston adds.

Each time employees work successfully on a diverse team, they become more able and willing to engage with conflict and difference — a great benefit to any company that values innovation.

Learn more about Adobe’s Diversity and Inclusion initiatives here.

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