There has long been an emphasis on unity in the workplace and sports metaphors are so commonly used to motivate employees toward that end. Regardless of your industry, things like teamwork, selflessness and common goals are essential to the success of your business. What often goes overlooked in the use of these sports metaphors, however, is the value of diversity.
Take football for example. It is true that all 22 players are working toward a common goal but that certainly does not mean that all 22 players are going about it in the same way. A quarterback will, and should, be spending his practice time differently than a punter. An offensive lineman can go an entire career without even touching the football during a game, whereas a wide receiver is not really doing his job at all if he can’t get the ball in his hands. Each position on the field is different yet each is essential. The same approach should be taken toward diversity in the workplace.
Dealing with a team of employees that represent a wide variety of backgrounds can present some challenges of course. Communication, for example, is essential in the workplace and diversity of experience can complicate that in a lot of ways. Even if all members of your team speak English or Spanish or whatever other language, it can sometimes feel that everyone is speaking a different language. It is common that persons within a given field will develop something of a distinct vernacular.
Specialization has become the name of the game these days so it’s possible for a graphic designer, for example, to spend almost all of his or her time focused on that field alone. The ideologies, theories, trends and terms so common to graphic designers will very likely be completely lost on an employee that has been trained, educated or spent their entire career focused on accounting. That person will have their own set of ideas and ways to communicate them. If the time comes for the graphic designer to work with the accountant there is potential for confusion. To avoid severe issues with communication (or any of a number of potential issues) and instead use diversity as the benefit that it truly is, here are a few tips to keep in mind.
1. Clearly Establish Common Expectations and Overall Aims
Each employee will have their own specific tasks but all should feel that they are contributing to the same overall outcome. Take the time to ensure that each employee can see his or her connection to the bigger picture. Also make sure to help each employee feel like his or her specific contribution is valued.
2. Encourage Interaction Between Employees
Open workspaces, as opposed to the highly segregated cubicle or individual office design, have become increasingly popular. The motive behind this change is to allow for the greater sharing of ideas and interaction. Steve Jobs famously encouraged his employees to interact with other employees from different branches of Apple, going so far as to move all employee mailboxes to a central location to facilitate random mingling.
3. Familiarize Yourself with Employees Backgrounds
Don’t assume too much when hiring a new employee. Just because they have a degree in Finance does not mean that they have little experience in anything else. Oftentimes, people’s greatest strengths come in hobbies they are passionate about, even if they have little formal training. In most cases, these “hidden talents” won’t show up on a resume so seek to foster a work environment in which employees are comfortable getting to know each other. You may find that you have a lot more talent and experience to work with than you expected.