Innovation often means success or failure for a company. Organizations need to create new products and services to maintain relevance in the marketplace. Customers and other stakeholders view innovation as driving new features and functionalities that ultimately support profitability for a firm.
Just as customers and clients are diverse, innovation teams need to be diverse. An interesting paper in the Journal of Product Innovation Management (JPIM, Vol. 35, 2018) describes four different categories of diversity related to new product development (NPD). And it may surprise you that what we typically consider as measures of diversity can actually hinder innovation team effectiveness.
in their paper, Weiss et al., define “job-related” and “not job-related diversity”. In the first category are team member differences regarding education, work experience, and organizational functions. In contrast, not job-related diversity includes demographics, geographies, and value systems. Much of the general literature on teamwork has focused on not job-related diversity; however, research on creativity and innovation has examined job-related diversity to a greater degree.
Surface versus Deep Levels of Diversity
Diversity traits are also categorized by the ease with which another individual can view or discern them. For example, demographic diversity is a surface characteristic since we can usually discern age, gender, or race easily. Likewise, education and organizational function are readily determined for most team members and is often part of socialization, forming a team, or standard team-building activities.
Deep diversity traits, on the other hand, require interaction in relationship with another party to be fully revealed. And in some work situations, a person’s closely held values may be strictly guarded and not revealed to others. These characteristics include personality and preferred working styles such as openness to experience, degree of introversion/extroversion, or level of power and achievement. Deep personal values are not job-related yet strongly impact how an individual behaves and interacts with other team members.
Deep job-related traits include cognitive diversity and interaction styles such as knowledge, skills, and thinking and communication styles. A brief encounter or low-level working relationship cannot reveal deep job-related diversity characteristics. However, on an innovation team with open and honest dialogue, these deep diversity traits, such as thinking and communication styles, may be revealed over time.
Which Traits Lead to Innovation
According to the review by Weiss et al., surface level, not job-related diversity traits can hinder innovation productivity. People may immediately form stereotypes when thrown together into a team composed of people based on demographics alone, for example. Here, the differences outweigh the benefits and people will drift toward others more like themselves. This can lead to intra-team conflicts since there may be a lack of goal or purpose for the diversity of the team toward a working relationship.
For benefits of diversity to be captured, innovation teams need to build on job-related diversity more than just surface characteristics. While geographic diversity (a surface trait that is not job-related) can enhance local market understanding for an innovation team, job-related diversity plays a larger role in team productivity. Cross-functional teams face challenges in communication due to jargon, terminology, and norms. If not addressed properly, diversity in function can actually harm the efficiency and productivity of an innovation team. However, when team purpose, knowledge sharing, and conflict management processes are established through training and application, team collaboration is supported.
Of course, this doesn’t surprise me. In my chapter on Virtual Team Models in PDMA Essentials 3, I describe key practices for the team leader to reinforce the common purpose of the team, communication methodologies, and tools for knowledge sharing that enhance gaps for dispersed teams. It is only with deliberate attention to, and understanding of, individual and cultural differences that a team can build a cohesive group working style to achieve innovation success.
Finally, much work has been done to help individuals raise their self-awareness in working styles. The DiSC® assessment, for instance, allows people to learn about their preferred working style and to test interactions with team members of different working styles. Of course, when dealing with a deep, job-related diversity trait, team members must learn to trust one another, compromise, and forgive mistakes. Another great starting point for innovation teams is the Team Dimensions Profile which looks at the team members’ focus on possibility versus reality and the desire to interact or analyze. The Team Dimensions Profile then shows the distribution of working styles to build communication, collaboration, and conflict management strategies that improve innovation outcomes.
Why is Diversity Important to Innovation?
Innovation relies on satisfying customers with different wants and needs. Marketing messages must balance functional characteristics of a product with the emotional needs of end-users. An NPD team with diverse perspectives can best identify with the broadest set of customer needs and is well-suited to designing and developing products for the highest levels of customer satisfaction.
Yet, as researchers have learned, team diversity is not just an observable surface trait. An effective innovation team must tackle diversity from a deep level of job-related traits such as knowledge, skills, and working styles. Understanding our differences allows us to generate communication patterns that yield improved efficiency and productivity for innovation.
I love to help innovation team succeed. If you want to learn more about the Team Dimensions Profile, view a sample report, or learn more about Workplace DiSC, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I’m also offering a 15% discount on a standard bundle of Design Thinking and Agile NPD courses for the 22nd to 24th of April 2019. Use code “bundle” at checkout. Design Thinking provides a fabulous set of tools to increase diversity in communication with your end customer in mind.
If you want to learn more about developing a strong virtual team, you need to register for one of the Virtual Team Model courses right away! Some other tools for leaders of innovation teams include the Situational Team Leadership group activity and assessing the creativity of your team with a Team Dimensions Profile. Contact me at email@example.com or 281-280-8717 for more information on innovation, project management, and leadership training or coaching. I love helping individuals, teams, and organizations achieve their highest innovation goals!
Stop by and Say “Hi”
Are you attending the Texas Open Innovation Conference in Houston on 28 March? I’d love to chat with you. Also, I am speaking on open innovation and design thinking at the American Institute of Chemical Engineers (AIChE) Spring Meeting in New Orleans on 1 April (Management Division). And, I’ll be at the Bay Area SHRM Conference on 4 April 2019 in Friendswood, Texas. And, get ready for the PDMA conference in Orlando in November! I’ll be sponsoring a booth at the conference and would love to meet you in person!
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