At an offsite earlier this year, the newest member of our product management team confessed to us the reason he wanted to be a part of our team after he graduated, even though it took him far away from his family. “I realized,” he said earnestly, looking at all of us around the table, “that everyone here was either an immigrant or the child of an immigrant. It’s something really special, and I wanted to be a part of that.”
I came to a similar realization a couple of months before as I considered the makeup of our team. On any number of spectra, we represent a huge diversity of backgrounds. Four continents (and a sub-continent), representing eight countries. At least six languages. A large variety of ethnic backgrounds. Male and female. Age. Introverts and extroverts. A large variety of work and educational backgrounds, including business, engineering, digital design, evangelism, and retail and fashion product design.
While the latest buzzword in tech seems to be diversity, the reasons to create and maintain diverse teams have always seemed to me part hand-waving, part highly theoretical. However, having worked in a highly diverse team environment on Adobe XD, I can share the benefits from personal experience.
#1 We benefit from each other’s skills.
If you were to ask me to make something that looks aesthetically pleasing, you’d be in for a disappointment. While I can analyze UX workflows and provide feature guidance and feedback, I know my core skills don’t lie with matching colors or making sure my design relies on well-understood systems. However, our product management team has multiple people with a background in print and application design, and they can churn out gorgeous visual designs that we can use for our demos.
Similarly, I bring a variety of skills that my coworkers don’t have. Due to my writing background, I can churn out compelling business cases, lay out clear requirements, and craft blog posts. I recently spent a couple of days working on a set of demo videos for our executives, and leveraged my writing, audio recording, and video animation skills to quickly produce quality recordings that emphasized our core narrative.
When a team has skills that complement each other, the team itself succeeds, as it’s able to bring a greater number and variety of skills than an individual (or a group of similarly-skilled people) could bring.
#2 We come to better conclusions.
Quite often, business decisions involve two things: input and synthesis. Input is the information you have available to you, and the synthesis is how you combine and interpret the data. Diversity of thought quite often means that both the input and the synthesis of such are richer.
Having a diverse team can mean that the data that you have on hand is varied, as people approach the collection of data slightly differently, whether quantitative or qualitative. Having a greater variety of data on hand often leads to a deeper, more nuanced understanding of the problem to be solved.
The interpretation of this data, however, is often filtered through both an individual’s perceptions, inclinations, and life and career experiences. Earlier this year, we had five product managers in a room discussing the future of Adobe XD’s tools — each with backgrounds spanning engineering, evangelism, design, and business. As we considered the future of the product, each of us brought a different set of information, as we had all talked to a different set of customers across multiple geographies. We came to similar, but not identical, interpretations of this set of data.
By explaining our conclusions to the others in the room, we were all able to have a better understanding of the scope of the problem and were able to draw on all of our collective experiences to present a vision for the product. With a diverse team, the sum of the parts can truly be greater than any individual contributor.
#3 We listen better and understand more.
A girlfriend and I watched Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon in the theatres when it first came out in 2000. The movie was in Mandarin, so I barely needed the English subtitles. Somewhere in the middle of the movie, the two of us started laughing uproariously at a funny line in the movie. After a moment, we subsided into additional giggles; the translation was so bad, everyone else in the theatre missed the joke. Similarly, cultural background, career background, and personal inclination can contribute to catching nuances in conversation with customers and in user research.
I’ve definitely been in situations where I’ve missed some small cue that someone else caught — we’re all wired slightly differently, and each of us catch subtleties that others might not catch. By having multiple people in the room when we talk to customers and sharing our notes and impressions, we as a product team can more deeply understand our customer’s problems and advocate for the right solutions as a result.
#4 Resolving conflict grows our empathy.
Unfortunately, being on diverse teams takes work. Diversity often means differences of opinions, and these conflicts can seem to slow down a team’s decision making processes. However, resolving conflicts not only leads to a better solution (see #2), it also allows us opportunities to grow our capacity for empathy.
By listening to our colleagues, we begin to step outside of our own preconceived notions in order to truly understand another’s perspective. This skill is critical to the process of design thinking, and having a strong sense of empathy helps us to build a better product for our customers.
As a product team, we make an effort to listen to a variety of customers, from freelancers to agencies to large, in-house corporate design teams, in order to build our internal framework of who we are building Adobe XD for. However, the skill of listening starts from our own conversations with each other, through the conflicts of opinions that come through simply being different from one another.
#5 Diversity helps us to become better people.
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, working in a diverse environment challenges each of us individually. With every differing opinion, with every conflict in working styles, every person whose strength is different than mine, I am personally challenged to grow. By observing my colleagues, I am challenged in the way I approach work, challenged to set boundaries, challenged to grow in public speaking, and challenged to consider things in the context of strategy.
This means, however, that I also recognize that I, too, bring something to the table. I was brought into this role to help leverage my perspective and my skills, and this knowledge empowers me to speak up or stay silent. Through my work and through my interactions with my coworkers, I, too, influence others, just by being me.
Diversity matters, not just because it’s the right thing to do, but because it’s good business. Adobe XD’s product management team has benefited from diversity, and this translates directly to a solid product with a bright future.