How to manage team diversity to make it a strength

Marianne Slotboom
Dec 16, 2021

When teams fall short of their potential, an important reason could be that leaders don't know how to spot and manage the differences in their team; the diversity in people’s personality styles, underlying motivations and collaboration styles.

Social research and field studies confirmed repeatedly that heterogeneous teams perform better than homogeneous ones, although this can only be the case if these differences are managed in a constructive way!

How to manage cognitive diversity within the team?

Managing diversity starts with comprehension and understanding of the differences. To help us on this, we have access to an impressing number of models to identify the different personality styles or team roles. And that's my concern: it is overwhelming. We have more than hundred different models to help us on this!

If we only take into account team role models that identify 4 main personality styles, we already have dozens of models, the most popular among them: DISC, Insights Discovery, Herrmann’s Brain Dominance Instrument (HBDI), Life Orientations (LIFO), Clarity4D and Personal Colors (see image). Probably it is no coincidence, most of them make use of color-coding with the 4 primary colors; blue, yellow, green and red. If we add models that identify more than 4-personality styles, for example the Big Five, MBTI, Spiral Dynamics and Belbin and the spin-offs and combinations individual consultants and trainers developed out of them, we count over hundred personality or team role indicator models.

Different personalities

Some models are owned by global consulting and training firms and have become big business. Accreditation courses, licences, certifications, trainer kits. The tendency is that well established consultants or trainers "should" have at least one or two licences in their professional portfolios to be taken seriously. Apart from the income generated via trainers, the selling of manuals, books and not to forget the – in some cases - costly tests, are also part of this big business. The licences are well protected and criticisms via social media marvelously managed.

How confusing can it get? If you just were able to understand the differences, and recognize you are blue, yellow, red, green or orange you might find yourself among users of other models. “You are identified blue, but... according to which model?” And what does blue mean in your model?

The real issue is: what do we do with this information and why is it a shortcut to team development?

After having worked with several models, I came to the conclusion that, used in a good way, any well-developed type indicator model can help teams to manage diversity in a more positive way. In fact, I am convinced that it doesn’t really matter which one you use, as long as you don’t stereotype and use it to enhance recognition for diversity within your team. Each model of course having its strengths and weaknesses.

How to make good use of these models to increase team performance?

Winning team performance

Most of the models claim that every person is a composite of the different types and give an insight in their preferences in communication styles, decision making, underlying motivations, collaboration styles and specific qualities of individual team members.

Knowledge of the different qualifications can help leaders and team members to have a positive eye for the differences, enhancing comprehension for the variety in styles, being aware of their advantages. Irritations might be addressed in a more constructive way, knowing that every style is valid and needed within the team. Instead of getting frustrated by the differences, it can help team members to accept and complement each other, making the effort to manage diversity in a far more productive way and bringing the team to a higher performance. Diversity becomes a strength!

To get the most from the styles on their teams, leaders could enhance the knowledge of the different styles within the team, pull opposite types closer together to generate productive friction, give more visibility and voice to people with non-dominant styles and perspectives, and take extra care to get input from sensitive introverts.

There is no better way to enhance team performance than to validate a positive contribution. The key to success is to understand there are many ways to approach work and they all have their strengths. The models and tests can help us on this.

No need to spend a lot of money on expensive models or tests! We have developed a well thought-out test, 15 years ago, and we have used it since then for hundreds of participants in team building activities. The test is free of charge, short, easy to fill out, and it has proven that it's valid.

Nevertheless, to bring a team to high performance, there is much more to it than team role identifiers.

Marianne Slotboom
The author
Marianne Slotboom

Marianne is a strategic partner and practical developer of human behavior that helps leaders, teams and organizations become more focused and effective, elevating their value to customers. In 2015, Marianne founded Yellow Training to answer the call for more inspirational and creative leadership in the modern workplace.

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