Diversity builds real connections, not uniformity by Karen Walker

Numerous decision making, meeting, and work practices seeking consensus, certainty, and 'being on the same page', mistakenly believe these build bridges, real connections, and a sense of shared purpose and belonging at work. When the opposite is true, all the rewards of cooperative humans is reaped, only when membership of a group acknowledges us as unique individuals.

We're individuals

Our unique, individual genetics and experiences have already shaped our values and motivations well before an organisation has employed us.

Whilst a workplace environment may change the behaviour of employees - think employees choosing to withhold their views and opinions as a survival tactic, in an environment where it’s not safe to challenge the status quo - they will do so without betraying their own personal values and principles.

The ties that bind us are not only our sameness, but being accepted and included for our authentic self, by acknowledging and celebrating our individual differences.

Acknowledging diversity builds connections

Any relationship that skips the 'getting to know each other' process, by focusing on how one party can integrate / 'fit in' with the other, is stressful and unhealthy.

By comparison, relationships where we believe others really 'get us', and we can 'be ourselves, warts and all', are ones where we feel safe and respected.

There's significant costs of weakened relationships and coherence within teams and projects, if time isn't spent on personal interactions that develop trust and familiarity. Organisations that invest in things we all share, the need for being human at work, being seen, our social relationships, and a sense of belonging, do the following.

  • Encourage people to be their playful selves and have fun. Laughter is a human social signal and increases the brain’s release of endorphins. "Laughter relieves stress and boredom, boosts engagement and well-being, and spurs not only creativity and collaboration but also analytic precision and productivity.”
  • Provide lots of time and opportunity as part of working, for people to use their powerful language skills to talk with each other, about themselves and others, as part of all important social connections and relationships.
  • Provide opportunities for people to use their extensive human brainpower and desire for seeking knowledge, meaning, and understanding - about their organisation, their work, themselves, and their world. Opportunities to be able to listen, learn, theorise, challenge and test.
  • Design group activities and work, on the knowledge that for individuals to identify with a team relies heavily on the group fulfilling social needs of their members, including each member feeling 'distinctive' as an individual.
  • People eat lunch or other meals together with their colleagues every work day, "given it's an important aspect of belonging to a social group. Humans mark many significant events with a meal because it symbolises trust and dependence and connectivity."
  • Ensure the design of workplaces and work, doesn't force people to continually curb their natural instinct to acknowledge and engage with those around them.
  • Reward both individual and collective work efforts, as this satisfies the basic human psychological needs of being recognised for contributions as individuals, whilst also promoting stronger group identity, that meets another basic human need. A sense of belonging.

Creativity needs diversity

A healthy balance of tension between continuity and change in our lives creates harmony, just as it does in organisations. If organisations were completely static systems, facing and solving the same problems, diversity would add little value.

Organisations don't operate in isolation, and need a wide focus of attention well beyond solutions to known problems, seeking insight and foresight of their internal and external environments, that relies on creativity.

Creativity is located in the confluence of originality, flexibility, fluency and divergent thinking, expertise and perception-cognition.

Diversity creates resourcefulness

A significant source of human knowledge is obtained through our social relationships, which use observation, listening, empathy, and personal experiences. Providing important qualitative data beyond just quantitative reasoning, on which to base our decisions and actions.

Smart organisations invest in developing and coaching their leaders and management in the skills that bind humans together. Skills that create team environments that enable people to be themselves and benefit from the richness of human differences. Skills that also recognise what humans share, a desire for a culture that is safe, trust-based, respectful, inclusive, candid and open, supported by consistent narratives and stories about what matters.

Culture is a human system, constantly evolving, influencing and being influenced by, subcultures. Just as individuals are unique, so are the social relationships and cultures of various teams and groups.

Thriving individuals and teams, and healthy subcultures are always diverse. That's something that thriving organisations celebrate.

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Karen Walker is an Advisor, Expert and Operative in Strategy Execution, the series of decisions and actions undertaken to turn strategic visions of organisations into reality. An evolving journey of understanding possibilities and using situational awareness to adapt tactics and goals to realise maximum value. 

A specialist in the casino and gaming industry, with extensive experience in the implementation of new and innovative practices and the establishment of greenfield operations, Karen’s career spans senior operational management and leadership, program director, project and change management, and business transformation lead roles, across a number of sectors.