Diversity is not the right thing to do.

Since the BLM movement started, organisations the world over are vigorously reviewing diversity policies and discussing inclusion in a frantic effort to be seen as doing the right thing in order to stave off being engulfed into the issue. But what if business didn’t see diversity as ‘the right thing to do’ but rather something that underpinned their competitive advantage and enhanced their ability to make better strategic decisions?

Organisations need to move beyond seeing diversity as doing the right thing to understanding the tangible ways it can unlock hidden value to drive better outcomes for their business.

In order to achieve this, there needs to be a focus on cognitive diversity. Team composition needs to be centred on bringing people together that actually think differently to get to the best outcome.

However, this can be counterintuitive when you think about team dynamics and workplace productivity. Most managers would tell you that bringing a group of people together that think differently just creates conflict and will stifle productivity. This is true! Unity has shown to have positive impacts on productivity, but greater unity has also shown a greater propensity for groupthink leading to sometimes devastating outcomes and wasted investment. So, is greater unity what we want? Greater unity can offer you a faster way to get to the wrong outcome, great right?

One of the sectors that stands to benefit the most from a greater focus on diversity is the professional services sector mainly because the product is almost entirely intellectual. Cognitive diversity offers a range of inputs into solving complex intellectual problems and in some instances a range of solutions to any one problem. This presents the opportunity to deliver a client a higher quality of solution after considering a variety of ways to solve a given problem.

Consider Kearney Partner Robert Bustos-McNeil’s point of view, Kearney has shifted from teams of generalists to teams of specialists to encourage greater cognitive diversity, “The real value of diversity is bringing people together with different skills, training and background that will approach problems in entirely different ways. It’s about setting a clear challenge or defining the outcome and offering people the freedom to be curious, to be original in the way they meet that challenge.”

“We have shifted our organisation from combining teams of highly skilled generalists to teams of specialist that will approach problem solving in very different ways. We believe this produces a far superior quality solution and one that our clients truly value.”

“Our teams use the Agile methodology to structure the way they work together. Agile requires leaders to adopt roles that help maximise autonomy of thought but maintain a team mentality, meaning that individuals are encouraged to think differently but work together to solve the client problem. This does create conflict but with the right facilitation this is constructive and achieves excellent results.” Said Bustos-McNeil.

One of the core values of Agile is that it focuses on valuing individuals and interactions over processes and tools, this helps to manage diverse views and interactions effectively.

With a focus on interaction and managing diverse views we can bring people together not only with different skills but also different backgrounds, gender, race, sexual orientation etc. to fully realise the benefits of cognitive diversity.

auticon, a global social enterprise has built a business on integrating their autistic IT professionals into teams of software developers, cybersecurity professionals, engineers and other IT teams in some of the worlds largest and most well-known companies.

While the teams in this scenario have similar skills, the individuals bring neurodiversity into the teams and a different way of thinking. This leads to the development of a range of solutions to a common problem and often real ‘out of the box’ style thinking.

The organisation has over 210 autistic professionals working in meaningful information and technology roles worldwide and has delivered some of the most significant outcomes for businesses across the globe.

Whilst on assignment at Woolworths, the auticon team in conjunction with Woolworths IT Quality Assurance team, were tasked with improving the accuracy and productivity of the barcode scanning technology. The brief was essentially to enhance the capability of the existing software, however after examining the problem and understanding the end state requirement the team came up with a way to fully automate the process by building a custom robot. This helped remove some manual tasks in the testing process and improved the quality of the output. It also clearly demonstrates how bringing people into a project that think differently and leveraging diversity can unlock hidden value.

Bodo Mann, Managing Director and CEO of auticon Australia said, “Our consultants bring superior skills to the table but it’s more than that – their real strength is in cognitive diversity and the way they look for new ways to solve problems, ways that are typically just not in the picture.”

“The rapid growth of auticon across the globe has been fuelled by the need to inject innovation into teams and challenge the way we think and operate. People on the spectrum, without question, think differently, this is a strength, diversity is a strength, businesses just need to understand how to unlock it and that’s where we come in.”

In summary, diversity isn’t the right thing to do, it’s the keystone in building teams for high quality outcomes, it provides a foundation for organisations to develop unique and differentiating ideas. So, if you’re not thinking about cognitive diversity in teams prepare to get left behind.

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