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  • October 25, 2023

UNLOCKING PROSPERITY: The Power of Diverse, Inclusive Teams

Note: This is Part 4 of four-part series on Diversity’s Reckoning moment.

In Part 1, “Diversity’s Moment of Truth: The Path Forward Requires Transformation.” I named three priorities we need to address. I then have written a post on each of these:

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Written with Michel Buffet

Part 4 of four-part series on Diversity’s Reckoning.

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For 50 million people to adopt computers, mobile phones, the Internet, and Facebook it took 14, 12, 7, and 3 years respectively. And then between November 2022 and January 2023, it only took two months for 100 million to be using ChatGPT.

Life today moves at warp speed and nearly every area of our lives and society has a different way of working than, let’s say, yesterday. At this speed of change, traditional ways of running organizations are falling short of delivering what the market needs. Just about every leader we advise or coach laments rigid silos getting in the way of speed and see hierarchies are choking decision-making and innovation. Moreover, in-person face-to-face interaction has dramatically become less of a practical reality. Given all these changes, teams are losing more than 20 hours a week due to unclear communication and collaboration.

Agility, fluidity, spontaneity are needed more than standard operating procedures to respond to the minute-by-minute barrage of challenges, opportunities, and new knowledge. Not only do 92% of C-suite leaders say agility is critical for the future, but the results are in: agile organizations are two times more likely to attain top financial results.

What is the key to this agility? It’s teams.

As much as teams have been with us since the dawn of time – as in early humans going on group hunts for mastodons—something transformational is now happening with teams.

Teams—and not practices, lines of business, or offices—have become the emerging organizing principle through which work gets done. Teams are 50% more efficient at completing tasks than individuals. Teams are the ultimate morphing entity like no other part of the organization. They are more autonomous and instantly adaptable as they can come together, break apart, and then reconfigure with members even belonging to multiple teams at a time. They can vary in size, exist for any length, accommodate any person, be anywhere.

Effective Teams Are Diverse and Inclusive

The full spectrum of diversity comes to life and delivers concrete and measurable outcomes in the context of teams. That is because teams offer the preferred setting for people to retain their humanity and not get lost in the intricate impersonal structures of Big Business or big government. Teams are where one has the greatest opportunity to feel they belong, can bring their full selves, and can achieve their best work. And when it comes to inclusive teams it goes beyond doing their best work individually. It’s also about doing it collectively. Orchestras exemplify this duality since they showcase the combination of individual mastery and powerful collective brilliance, to which all teams aspire.

Why does this matter when it comes to DE&I? After decades of soaring rhetoric on the business case for diversity and inclusion and billions spent on DE&I programs to support the proclamations, the results remain underwhelming. While it’s true that overall, organizations are more diverse at the entry-level with certain racial/ethnic groups that had been traditionally underrepresented, and that there have been measurable gains of women into managerial roles, the top of the house remains as homogenous as it has always been.

Further, the so-what of diversity—greater innovation, expansion into multicultural markets, more effective collaboration across global geographies—has remained just out of reach. Yet, it is diverse teams that create the conditions for greater innovation.

Inclusive teams are more innovative—they produce 45% of a company’s total revenue with innovation compared to only 26% of non-inclusive teams

For instance, a BCG study analyzing over 1,700 companies worldwide found that inclusive teams were more innovative—they produce 45% of a company’s total revenue with innovation compared to only 26% of non-inclusive teams, and 87% of inclusive teams are superior decision-makers.

But it’s not just the diversity of the teams that leads to greater innovation. It’s their inclusiveness. Diversity alone does not deliver brilliance. You just can’t put a diverse team together and expect to see the documented benefits sprout organically. To optimize that diversity and, in fact, to be able to navigate the greater complexity and enhanced possibility of friction inherent in diverse teams, teams must also be inclusive. A diverse and inclusive team is the winning combination.

Now let’s combine the changing nature of contemporary teams with the stand-alone facts of diverse and inclusive teams being more innovative and higher performing. In the chart below we make the connection between our larger transformational context which is leading to how teams are morphing to needing more diversity and inclusion to rise to the challenges and deliver that promised brilliance.

Teams, therefore, are the nexus where the statistics of greater diversity and inclusion come to life. It’s teams where the energy for shaping the future is stored, ready to be activated. And it’s diversity and inclusion that increases the octane of team performance.

However, activating this energy—since teams don’t become diverse and inclusive automatically—requires insight into culture formation, the psychology and sociology of differences, the art and science of organizational design, and what we are learning about collective intelligence from the field of neuroscience. Combined these help develop the mindsets and practices required to unlock the full potential of inclusive teams.

At Korn Ferry, we have been immersed via research and practice in cracking the code of how this happens and how to predictably accelerate it happening. As a full complement to our groundbreaking work on The Five Disciplines of Inclusive Leaders and The Five Disciplines of Inclusive Organizations, we will soon reveal The Five Disciplines of Inclusive Teams.

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This is Part 4 of a four-part article series on Diversity’s Reckoning moment. Part 1, “Diversity’s Moment of Truth: The Path Forward Requires Transformation,” named three priorities we need to address. Then I have written a post on each of these:

Next-gen DE&I must go ahead and mute the TV news and state the case: diversity means business. Innovate or wither. Lead inclusively or wither. Activate inclusive teams or wither.

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