Its great that you gathered a racially diverse team. But have you managed to unleash the team’s potential to do great things in your organization? And yet there is very little guidance on how to unleash your team’s potential. In this article, the author outlines three research-backed strategies. First, learn to recognize difference instead of pretending it doesn’t exist. Second, work to uncover common ground. And third, commit to having difficult conversations instead of avoiding them.
1. Recognize differences: Many business leaders today grow up with a common practice encouraged by schools, parents, and other institutions – color blindness. People who are in the racial minority are less likely to share personal information with majority colleagues that highlights their difference. Leaders should create climate that encourages differences to be revealed without inhibitions. Everyone has some aspect of themselves that we assume others in some contexts will not understand. Sharing in this way helps to establish a norm that authentically self-disclosing is welcomed.
2. Work to actively uncover common ground: Everyone has a collection of attributes, which may be similar or different from their teammates. There is rarely perfect alignment such that some members differ from teammates across all attributes. Listening and sharing, effective tools in many relationships, plays a key role in team success. Self-disclosure can reveal commonality as well as difference and is key to building strong, meaningful relationships at work. The absence of these relationships means the team risks an execution problem, and individuals may have limited developmental and sponsorship opportunities that come from informal close exchanges.
3. Commit to having difficult conversations: Even teams that recognize and honor differences and similarities can have conflict. It’s vital to build the habit of confronting differences due to race so that the team can effectively move forward. Often, we avoid discussions on race due to fear of negative repercussions. Teams have tremendous potential. A diverse team can drive more creativity, encourage individuals to think through and process ideas more critically, and aid problem solving. Instead of pretending that race does not exist, it’s time for business leaders to create environments that encourage authenticity, trust and build supportive team cultures that help teams reach these lofty aims. Your team’s success just may depend on it.
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