In 2014I wrote an article about the benefits which diversity in team composition can bring to risk identification. With different backgrounds and experiences, team members will usually identify a richer set of risks than might be defined by a group with limited diversity. It is also recognized that diverse teams are usually more creative and can be more innovative.
But while attending an Agile20Reflect event yesterday where a fair amount of time was spent by the participants discussing the lack of diversity in the boards of some agile associations and in the hiring of agile roles within certain companies, it reminded me that just because we conceptually accept something doesnҴ mean we are great at putting it into action.
Inertia often trumps diversity when it comes to staffing teams.
In matrix contexts, PMs will be providing their skill requirements to people managers and while the PM might be considering the overall team makeup in the back of their minds, priority is often too heavily placed on getting someone with the best skills to complete the expected work. Functional managers are faced with fielding multiple parallel and often competing requests for talent, so adding diversity into search criteria might be seen as a nice-to-have requirement. Even if the PM is at a higher level of power or influence, they might be reluctant to push back on the staffing recommendations made by the functional managers purely on a lack of diversity.
In projectized situations, the PM has much greater control over who will be part of their team, but if they are facing pressure to meet aggressive dates, they might be inclined to build the team as quickly as possible which means that diversity again takes a back seat.
Diversity quotas are not an answer as such strategies are divisive by intent. Oversight helps, but nothing will replace the real commitment of a PM to building their team with diversity in mind.
Staffing is just the first step.
Opportunities provided by having greater team diversity are squandered if we donҴ incorporate inclusiveness into team culture. For example, a PMҳ attitude towards conflict will affect how successful they are with inclusiveness. If they are concerned about intellectual friction, a conflict-averse PM might prefer to let the louder voices within the team drown out the rest.
We need to start by baking inclusiveness into team working agreements and we need to model inclusive behavior in our interactions with the team. It could also be a topic of discussion during reflection events by having team members identify behaviors and actions which were inclusive and those which werenҴ.
It is not by accident that embracing diversity has been paired with psychological safety within the first promise of theDisciplined Agile mindset as the two go hand-in-hand. The more inclusive we are with the diversity in our teams, the safer our team members will feel. And the safer our team members feel, the more they will be inclined to respect and encourage opinions which are different than their own.