Be comfortable with diversity
Why should I listen to my colleague when his opinions and mine are diametrically opposed? Utilising group diversity constitutes a massive challenge to management groups. It is not easy to accept a stance that you regard as unintelligent, obscure or even confronts your personal values and beliefs. One member’s lack of patience or another member’s lack of resolution can cause frustration and turn a project-related conflict into a tiresome personal row.
Inspired by Edgar Schein, a recognised organisational development thinker, Andreas Wettre emphasises that every team member must be comfortable with his own role and the roles in the rest of the team.
- If a member feels uncomfortable and inadequate, he can’t perform. You have to reflect on your own role and ask yourself: What is my role? How can I reach my goals? And what level of confidence do I receive? For everyone to feel valuable, the members must practise being curious about each other and ask questions that inspire an open dialogue. Team dynamics shouldn’t be hampered by a battle over the best argument. Diversity fosters the best decisions, he claims.
Open the curious dialogue
In 2010, more than 400 Norwegian managers from 75 different management teams participated in a research project carried out by University of Oslo. The aim was to examine to what extent dialogical communication promotes effectiveness in management groups. And the results drew a pattern of a strong and positive relation between dialogue and all three dimensions of team effectiveness: task performance, relationship quality and satisfaction.
The researchers discovered that dialogue seems to have a positive influence on both attitudes and actions. Members believe that they can learn from each other. Members respect each other, even when they disagree. Members explore each other’s views, and they use them as a point of departure. Altogether, focused communication and dialogue reduce the amount of conflicts and boost team effectiveness.
In a recent project, Andreas Wettre experienced how dialogue and diversity acted as an eye-opener to a middle-level management group:
- The group had received an initiative from top-level management that it wasn’t too happy with. At first, they wanted to stop it. I asked them if it was an important project, and they conceded that it suited the overall purpose of the team. But they still had objections, he explains.
Therefore, the group kicked off a process that allowed every member, one at a time, to present his or her personal views. The remaining members were encouraged to ask curious questions in order to understand the reasoning behind the individual concerns. This challenged the group’s understanding of the problem and created new insights that ultimately resulted in a more positive attitude towards the project.
- Although their starting point was negative, they managed to use the diversity of the group to form a new, collective understanding. The dialogue worked as a constructive tool that unlocked a common understanding of the purpose, reduced reluctance and made the implementation more effective.
Balance involvement and progress
Management groups deal with rather complex matters. Andreas Wettre has seen how the best performing groups manage to navigate in their increasingly complex organisations. But quite often, the complexity gets lost when it travels. A discussion at top level can lead to an initiative that the rest of the organisation does not grasp the benefits of.
- Efficiency demands quality and acceptance. If management has addressed a need for a new IT system, they have to ensure the quality of the delivery, and involve employees in the decision process to secure acceptance and make the implementation more effective, he says.
However, every management group experiences immense pressure. Acceptance demands time and effort, both from the management team and from the rest of the organisation.
- At some point, the dialogue must end. Before you come up with a solution, you must challenge your understanding of the problem and the complexity of the organisation. You have to be very clear when communicating your intentions, and you need to find the fine balance between involvement and progress, between acceptance and decision-making – especially in larger groups, Andreas Wettre stresses.
Building a dynamic management group is like building a dynamic team on a boat. When Andreas Wettre is not advising top management groups, he captains the “Bilbo”, an X-35 yacht. Regardless of your coordinates at sea or in the conference room, a dynamic team can stimulate energy levels and add that extra value – for the organisation, for the team and for the individual.
- The best team at sea sails better than the best sailor alone. Simple as that.