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The D Word: The True Power of Team Diversity



Diversity. What does that word mean to you? Anyone who has been in the modern world of work will have come across diversity and inclusion programs, and even C-level leaders solely responsible for all things diversity within their companies.

How do you factor in “Diversity” when you are building a world-class team? From what I have observed it is not that difficult, yet many leaders get it wrong.

Over time, my thoughts on diversity, and challenges in building diverse teams, have evolved. I was never “anti-diversity,” but I have seen some global tech company diversity programs and team goals actually work against their stated objectives, because they were not well thought out, had unobtainable goals, or they were not accompanied by effective leadership. Despite all of the energy and programmatic approaches to diversity, I have seen countless leaders simply ticking the boxes to ensure they came close to meeting program goals so they could stay out of the HR spotlight. They did not think about the tangible impacts of diversity on their team and their team’s accomplishments.

What is the core job of a people manager or a division leader? It is to get the most out of their teams, whether that is the shortest time to market, the fastest performance improvement, the happiest customers, or high employee retention. Here is what I have learned…. you need to strive to build diverse teams, not only because it is the right thing to do, but, because you end up with better technical and business solutions.


So, as a leader, what’s the best way for you to do that? You must proactively drive an intentional culture and foster team diversity.


Drive Intentional Culture 

We define Intentional Culture as an organizational environment where leaders actively promote a way of working that aligns to the organization’s values and purpose. 

In my various roles leading technical product and services teams, driving intentional culture has meant being very consistent and vocal in team meetings, and especially during the hiring process, as to how we operate and what we want the characteristics of the team to be. Here are examples of what we talk openly about.

In the best teams….

  • We always have each other’s back – especially when someone makes a mistake.

  • We are hard-working, and unabashedly aggressive about innovation, quality and output.

  • Everyone is expected to provide an opinion, even if you disagree with another team member.

  • We have respectful dialog, especially when we disagree; we come to a conclusion that we all move forward with, whether it was your idea or not.

  • We do not rest on hierarchy - operationally everyone is equal.

  • We build the team for diversity, in every possible domain, and consider respect a core value of teamwork.

  • We talk openly about what worked well and what didn’t. When something didn’t work well, we dissect why, and strive to improve it.

  • Continuous improvement (of process, technology, portfolio, teaming, etc.) is a mindset, a team imperative, and job requirement.

  • We try our best to balance the workload and achieve a sustainable work/life balance – if someone is out of balance, they escalate.

  • When we are looking to hire new team members we talk about our intentional culture – how they react will tell us whether they will fit in well and advance the culture.

  • We are comfortable with ambiguity and confident that, together, we will solve the most difficult challenges.

  • We laugh….a lot.


Foster Team Diversity 

Team diversity is always a goal to strive for – but in the broadest possible terms. By far the BEST teams I have led, those who achieved the best solutions rapidly, and truly enjoyed their jobs and each other, were the most diverse teams. We openly and purposely built the team for diversity….not just diversity of race, age, and gender, but also of socio-economic background, education, thought, experience, skills, and industry.

Teams with this level of diversity, and with an intentional culture, learned the most from each other, became more thoughtful and caring teammates, and excelled in their jobs because they had no fear – they knew the team would have their back. When you can achieve that, it’s a beautiful thing AND you are excelling at your job as a leader, which is to get the best possible results. It’s been proven time and again – diverse teams deliver better results.


Final Thoughts

Some additional thoughts on diversity nuances and challenges:

  1. In certain circumstances, diversity can be very challenging to achieve. In the early days of cyber security, almost every security consultant was 20-ish, white, middle-class or above. There were almost no women, and almost no people of color. What the best leaders did then was to say….how do we address this in 3 years, 5 years, 10 years, and beyond. We built mentorship programs, held boot camps, and worked with high schools and universities to change the landscape. I wouldn’t say the problem is solved in cyber security, but there is certainly measurable progress.

  2. For teams doing highly technical work or driving technical transformations, sometimes diversity of age is challenging. If you have many younger team members, you need to have the time to properly mentor them, which is rarely the case when doing challenging transformational work. Instead, be patient and selective for recruiting stellar junior talent, who possess (or can learn) the technical skills but also have the personality to thrive in a challenging environment. This has worked exceptionally well, driving both innovation and execution. Quality is much more important than quantity.

  3. Driving an intentional culture and creating a diverse team takes time and commitment. Taking shortcuts during the recruiting and hiring process will backfire. Make sure your job descriptions are detailed and well written, and ensure they allow for candidates with different backgrounds and personality types to apply. Excellent recruiters and team leaders understand that certain skills can be taught on the job, while other traits cannot, and try to hire people with those traits and backgrounds to level up your team.


Whether you work in a start-up or at a global technology leader, your HR team will have some responsibility for diversity, and very likely will have diversity goals. Actively help them understand what’s working well and what’s not. Building your team with an intentional culture and an unparalleled level of diversity go hand-in-hand and will pay amazing dividends in team productivity, employee satisfaction, and retention.