Management Articles


Embrace Diversity to Build Effective Teams

By: Dr. Marilyn Manning

Marilyn Manning, Ph.D., CMC, CSP, and CEO and founder of The Consulting Team, LLC, is an international author, speaker, and consultant. She specializes in interactive speeches, workshops, and consulting in the areas of Leadership, Teamwork, Conflict Mediation, Executive Coaching, Meeting Facilitation, Strategic Planning, and Communication. 94% of Dr. Manning’s work is repeat business. For more information about Dr. Manning and The Consulting Team, LLC go to her website at or contact, 650-965-3663.

Turning a group into a team is one of the biggest challenges leaders face. We find ourselves leading groups of very diverse individuals in complex projects and tasks. We don’t always get to hand pick our team, but rather we often inherit teams and all of their past baggage. Whatever the state of the group, we all need team skills. A recent report, “Office of the future”, states that the following skills are essential for future career success: strong people skills, the ability to communicate effectively, and the leadership to build teams.

A group becomes a team when you treat them like a high level, high profile project. You need to define your desired outcomes, set measurable goals, design your game plan with benchmarks and deadlines, and keep everyone focused.

The basic definition of a team is: “a small number of people with complementary skills who are committed to a common purpose, performance goals, and an approach for which they hold themselves mutually accountable.” (Katzenbach and Smith, 1993) This is a good starting point for defining your desired outcomes.

Team Outcome Checklist:

  1. What is our ideal size?
  2. What skills do we have, need to add?
  3. How does each contribute to our mission and purpose?
  4. Do we mutually set, track, and meet specific performance goals?
  5. Do we set and live by behavioral ground rules?
  6. Do we hold ourselves accountable?

If any of these ingredients are missing, you are functioning more like a group than a team. I was recently asked to facilitate some problem-solving sessions with a team that had identified some interpersonal conflicts. The team had five high achievers, who each had clear individual goals. One of them even stated: “I don’t see why we even meet as a team when we have nothing in common.” When I probed to find some evidence of collective work, I couldn’t find any. However, when they talked, in depth, about their individual roles and objectives, they started to see some potential interconnections. It turned out that their conflicts were primarily due to their isolation and lack of teamwork.

Effective teams do not encourage heroes or superstars. They look for ways to maximize their resources and build on each other’s strengths and diversity.

On the surface, it may seem easier to work with people of similar styles, thinking and background, but diversity brings richness to a team. Embracing diversity means equal treatment and opportunity for people of all ethnic backgrounds, lifestyles, and beliefs.

Most teams today deal with the global and diverse marketplace, necessitating the need for a diverse group of talent. Think about diversity as “differences.” A diverse team can bring together individuals with different backgrounds, approaches and ways of thinking. An outstanding team is the one without subgroups of any type. It is the total lack of a “we” vs. “they” attitude. It has an effective leader who embraces differences, respects disagreement, and doesn’t surround him or herself with “yes” people.

Once you have your diverse group of talent and you’ve agreed on the team mission, it’s vital to define HOW your team is going to work together. What are the decision-making procedures, roles, and problem-solving mechanisms?

Ground rules are a means for clarifying processes. What follows is a process I have successfully facilitated with many diverse teams from executives, to front-line workers, to politicians, to Boards of Directors. This process uses personal values as its foundation.


Have each individual submit the five values that are most important to them in the workplace. Examples might be “honesty,” “accuracy,” “teamwork,” “risk-taking.”


As a group, prioritize the values and choose 3-5 everyone can agree to.


Define each value and why it is important for your team.


Identify which behaviors and actions reinforce this value, and which behaviors can undermine it or are non-reinforcing.

Setting Ground Rules:
1. Individually list values.
2. Gain consensus on 3-5 values.
3. Discuss why each value is important.
4. List how we can reinforce the value and what we should avoid.

“Respect is important on any team. It is needed to build loyalty and mutual trust.
We can reinforce respect by seeking others’ input regarding decisions that may affect them. We undermine respect when we change direction without giving others an explanation.”

I highly recommend taking your team through this exercise. I have used this process to build teamwork, to resolve interpersonal conflicts, and to get teams refocused. It is not a discussion to be rushed, or taken lightly.

I suggest you consider using an outside facilitator when defining value-based expectations. As a leader, being a participant in this process will be enlightening. You will learn a lot about your team members. And, they will set the norms. When a team fully participates in defining and enforcing the norms, a new level of ownership happens.

It is more manageable to set only a few ground rules at a time. When the team keeps its focus on one or two areas, the chance for success is greater. Ask your team: “What are the behaviors our team needs to focus on for the next quarter?”

I recently worked with two “warring” divisions within the same company - research and development vs. sales and marketing. They had a history of conflict. They both felt undermined by each other, assuming that the other team never listened. There was plenty of finger pointing, blaming and passing the buck.

After a lively discussion of values and expectations, they agreed on just one ground rule. “I will meet my deadlines.” “If, on rare occasion, I must extend the deadline, I will negotiate with all affected parties to reach a mutual agreement on the new deadline. I will notify all parties of any change at least 24 hours ahead.”

The two teams found that when everyone followed this one practice, it completely changed the way they worked together. It changed their culture. A new level of respect and consideration happened. I also challenged them to have a strong consequence if someone broke the ground rule. They all agreed that anyone not keeping the “rule” would have to bring delicious food for everyone at the next meeting and would have to offer to help other team members with their tasks.

The team reported that only two people “slipped” in the next month. The two who slipped did buy food for the next meeting and helped out with others’ tasks. The purpose of setting the ground rules is to establish new improved behaviors as the norm. When the team levies consequences, it reinforces the desired changes. The idea of ground rules is to institutionalize improved interactions. Ground rules help us make a positive cultural change in the organization.

If your team is experiencing interpersonal conflict or a lack of productivity, the chances are that ineffective leadership is playing a big role in the problem. Don’t give up trying to turn your group into a real team. Ask for help and team coaching.

© Copyright 2008, Dr. Marilyn Manning

Other Articles by Dr. Marilyn Manning

The author assumes full responsibility for the contents of this article and retains all of its property rights. ManagerWise publishes it here with the permission of the author. ManagerWise assumes no responsibility for the article's contents.


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