Why Diverse & Cross-Functional Teams Doesn’t Work
Innovation is not just about putting people with different experiences and competencies together — that’s only the beginning of the journey.
Over the last couple of decades, the idea of bringing together a diverse and cross-functional group of people to solve an organisation’s challenges has been the answer on most leaders lips.
We wish to be cross-functional so we can get an inside-out perspective on how a solution should work, be produced and rolled out, but also a diverse group of people to get an outside-in perspective for how this solution might be perceived in the market.
And that’s great! I’m all in for diverse and cross-functional teams for the sake of innovation — but the problem is that it’s way too simple of a solution for such an extremely complex task. The belief that if we just put together the right people in the same room, they’ll solve our problems, is simply wrong.
Don’t invest in individuals, invest in the team.
The superpower of diverse and cross-functional teams is that they look at problems and challenges differently and thereby have different opinions and solutions. The tricky part is that the same superpower also is the challenge.
What most leaders tend to forget is that differences often lead to unnecessary misunderstandings, conflicts, and confusion because we look at the world through different lenses. We see this everywhere in the world, politics being a prime (read: horrible) example.
For the solution architect, being “user-centric” means one thing, but for the communications manager, it might very well mean something else. Like all relationships we have, whether it’s family, friends, or colleagues at work, we need to spend time discussing and aligning on what we mean by the words we use — and if we don’t, we’ll have unnecessary and unproductive conflicts simply because we will be talking about different things.
It’s crucial to align on what our goals are, who has which responsibilities and authority, and why. We need to learn how to communicate effectively with each other and evaluate our work and collaboration continuously to improve how we perform as a team. We need to build Psychological Safety in our teams, so the members feel safe enough to speak up!
If leaders manage to support their diverse and cross-functional teams in building a safe and inclusive team culture where they thrive on their diversity, organizations can expect performance like nothing else. But if they don’t, the efforts will most likely end up in frustration, misunderstandings, and disengaged employees. It’s bad for both people and business.